Jurors watched somberly this evening as prosecutors presented their key piece of evidence against child molestation suspect Chester Stiles: a 15-minute videotape that depicts the sexual assault of a 2-year-old girl.
District Judge Jennifer Togliatti closed the courtroom to the general public during the viewing but granted access to five reporters who had requested it.
Togliatti described the video as “child pornography in its most graphic form.” Earlier, FBI agent Andrew Gruninger testified that he had compared images of the man in the video with photos of Stiles.
“It was our conclusion that they were the same person,” he said.
A screen was placed between the jury and the courtroom gallery during the viewing of the video, which meant reporters had to choose between seats that allowed them to see the video and seats that allowed them to observe jurors’ reactions to it.
Although members of the jury passed around a tissue box before the video began, they showed little outward emotion while watching it. The courtroom was mostly silent during the viewing.
Jurors watched the video on a large-screen monitor that was placed in front of them and perpendicular to the gallery. Two men and a woman who were closest to the screen appeared the most agitated; both men bowed their heads as the video concluded. Attorneys reversed their own monitors, which normally face the gallery, and sat on the opposite sides of their tables while the video played.
Stiles, 38, positioned himself at the defense table in a way that allowed him to see the jury but did not appear to give him a view of the video. He frequently wrote notes on a legal pad while the video played.
The defendant faces 22 counts of sexual assault and lewdness with a minor. He is accused of molesting a 6-year-old girl, in addition to the girl on the video. If convicted, Stiles could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Prosecutors presented just two witnesses Friday. The first was Susan Windrem, one of the defendant’s former girlfriends.
Windrem, 55, said she met Stiles in San Diego in early 2007.
“First we were just friends, and then it developed into a romantic relationship,” she said.
Windrem said she helped Stiles move to Las Vegas in July 2007 and later helped him move to Pahrump. In September 2007, she said, he decided he wanted to move to Barstow, Calif.
Around that time, the witness testified, he talked about a videotape and asked her “to please believe that it wasn’t him in the tape.”
She said she rented a storage unit for him in Pahrump on Sept. 28, 2007. After he put his belongings in it, the two drove to her son’s home in Las Vegas.
Windrem recalled that her son told her Stiles had to leave. Later, she and her son watched a news broadcast about the discovery of a videotape that showed a man sexually assaulting a young girl.
The broadcast included an image of the man seen on the videotape, and Windrem said she recognized him as Stiles. She then took the information to police. Henderson police arrested Stiles on Oct. 15, 2007, after the case had generated national attention.
On Friday, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jim Sweetin asked Windrem to read several excerpts of letters Stiles had written her.
According to one excerpt, he wrote, “I have no defense. I’m done.” According to another, he wrote, “They have turned it into the crime of the century.”
When the prosecutor completed his questioning, Stiles quietly uttered “all taken out of context” before one of his lawyers quickly shushed him.
District Judge Jennifer Togliatti did not react to the incident until after she granted a defense request for a recess and excused the jury from the courtroom.
“When you burst out in the proceeding, it is disrespectful and disruptive to the proceedings,” she sternly told Stiles.
The defendant stared blankly at Togliatti for a moment, prompting her to say, “Hello?” He then told her he understood.
Togliatti told Stiles he needed to meet privately with his lawyers to get their advice before the trial could continue.
“There are certain legal ramifications, potentially, to making comments when you’re not on the stand,” the judge said.
Prosecutors also played an audio recording Friday of a phone call Stiles made from the Clark County Detention Center on Oct. 26, 2007. Gruninger said he recognized the voice of the woman on the other end of the line as another of Stiles’ former girlfriends, Elaine Thomas.
During the conversation, Stiles shared his understanding of the legal definition of rape.
“There don’t need to be any violence or any blood or crying or fighting or nothing like that,” he said. “Or the word ‘penetration,’ it doesn’t need to be penetration. Well, I know what penetration is all about, because I was brutally raped a few times in my younger years, you know that.”
Stiles told the woman nothing on the videotape in his case compared to what he had suffered.
“The worst thing that happened on that video was a ‘diddle,’” he said.
Testimony in the case is scheduled to resume Monday morning.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-380-8135.