After sitting through a week of testimony that included watching a videotape showing the sexual molestation of a 2-year-old girl, jurors in the trial of assault suspect Chester Stiles will begin deliberations this morning.
The District Court jury was sent home Monday night after hearing almost three hours of closing arguments from prosecutors and Stiles’ attorneys.
If the jury convicts Stiles, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars. During closing arguments Monday, Deputy Public Defender Stacey Roundtree questioned the authenticity of the videotape that authorities said shows Stiles sexually assaulting the 2-year-old.
“You cannot trust the evidence in this case,” Roundtree said.
She said authorities can’t say “with certainty” that Stiles is the man who appears in the video because Nye County police enhanced his image in photos that were publicly released after the video was discovered in the desert near Pahrump in 2007.
Authorities said they enhanced only still photos of Stiles, not the entire videotape.
To help make her point, Roundtree showed jurors a short clip of the 1994 movie “Forrest Gump.” The clip shows actor Tom Hanks with President Lyndon B. Johnson in obviously manipulated film footage.
Prosecutors denied that the videotape was altered. Clark County prosecutor Mary Kay Holthus told the jury that Stiles is “director, producer and leading man” on the tape and that he never denied he was in the video.
Jurors watched the 15-minute videotape Friday. The tape, which garnered national attention as police tried to identify the suspect and the victim, is a key piece of evidence against Stiles. He faces 22 counts of sexual assault, lewdness with a minor and attempted sexual assault.
Nineteen of the felony counts Stiles is charged with relate directly to the assault depicted on the tape. The victim, now 8, has no memory of the sexual assault, which authorities said happened in 2003.
Stiles also faces three felony counts in a second 2003 incident involving the molestation of a 6-year-old girl in Las Vegas.
Stiles has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Roundtree told the jury that the FBI didn’t maintain a proper chain of custody when handling the video evidence and said investigators “fudged paperwork” related to keeping the video.
During the trial, FBI agent Andrew Gruninger testified that authorities found a DVD in a storage facility used by the suspect that showed the same sexual assault contained on the videotape. Gruninger told the jury that the FBI didn’t find the footage when they first examined the DVD in 2007. The FBI discovered it about a year later during a subsequent inquiry.
Gruninger also recounted who in the FBI had access to the video.
During closing arguments, jurors once again heard Stiles’ jailhouse confession.
In a low voice, Stiles tells an ex-girlfriend in the recorded phone call from the county jail that he’s angry that he’ll be convicted of sexual assault for molesting a girl when he was brutally raped when he was a young man.
He goes on to say that he “can’t deny what’s on the video and I’m not proud of it.” “But that’s the facts,” Stiles said.
Prosecutor Jim Sweetin also recounted letters Stiles had written to his son and ex-girlfriends. The letters included apologies from Stiles to the girl in the video and confessions that he’s a pedophile.
Sweetin also explained to the jury that in order to convict Stiles, prosecutors had to prove that Stiles in fact sexually assaulted the 6-year-old girl and the 2-year-old girl. He reminded the jury that the 6-year-old, now 11, testified last week that Stiles kissed her on the mouth and groped her.
As for the 2-year-old, Sweetin put it simply.
“I have two words for you,” Sweetin said. “Video tape.”
Contact reporter David Kihara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.