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October 23, 2014

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Trial begins in Las Vegas toddler video sex case

Chester Stiles

Chester Arthur Stiles, center, was arraigned Oct. 17, 2007, at the Clark County Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas. He is charged with videotaping himself molesting a 2-year-old girl. Launch slideshow »

A community was horrified when authorities issued a public plea to help track down a man who videotaped himself molesting a 2-year-old girl.

The same graphic video that helped end a frantic manhunt for Chester Arthur Stiles in 2007 and located his victim will be the key piece of evidence as Stiles goes on trial this week.

Stiles, who also is accused of molesting a 6-year-old, faces 22 felony charges, including 21 that carry a life sentence.

"You like that? Feel good?" Stiles asks the toddler in the video, according to a Las Vegas police report filed after Stiles was arrested on Oct. 15, 2007, in Henderson. Police said Stiles can be seen adjusting the camera as he sexually assaults the child.

The haunting video hasn't been shown publicly, but authorities took photo images of the girl and a man's face from it and distributed them to the media to help find the child and Stiles during a two-week nationwide search.

Now, after several delays, Stiles, 38, is on trial in Las Vegas on charges he sexually assaulted the two girls in 2003. Jury selection began Tuesday. Stiles has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of sexual assault with a minor under 14 years of age, 10 counts of lewdness with a child under 14, and one charge of attempted sexual assault with a minor under 14.

"I'm done," Stiles wrote in letters to his girlfriend from the Clark County jail, where he has been held for the past 16 months. He refers to himself as "a monster" with "no defense" facing "forever" in prison "for a crime that happened once."

"No weapon was used; no drugs, no violence, no blood, no tears, no threats," he said in one of his letters, with an apparent reference to the younger girl having "no memory of it."

"Coercion used for some touching, and they have turned it into the crime of the century," he wrote.

Stiles waived a preliminary hearing, which spared the young girls from having to testify. But after he pleaded not guilty, his defense lawyers fought to edit the letters before they are shown to the jury.

His lawyers also plan to challenge the authenticity of the videotape and raise questions about the way it came into the hands of sheriff's deputies in the nearby desert town of Pahrump.

"This is by no means an open-and-shut case," insisted Stacey Roundtree, a deputy public defender who represents Stiles. "The jury will find that they really cannot trust what they see."

No decision has been made about whether Stiles will testify, Roundtree said.

His lawyers also plan to challenge the memory of the older girl, who now lives with her mother in Washington state and is due to take the witness stand. There is no video of her alleged attack.

The case burst onto the public scene in late summer 2007 when Nye County sheriff's deputies say 26-year-old Darren Tuck gave them a videotape that he said he found about five months earlier, wrapped in a plastic bag beneath a piece of wood in a desert lot about 60 miles west of Las Vegas.

Sheriff's investigators say they were initially unable to identify the man or the child pictured in the video.

"We were getting kind of desperate. We didn't know where she was, or whether she was alive," Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo said, recalling why he made the unusual decision to distribute images of a sexual assault victim.

"We felt she was still in danger," DeMeo said.

It didn't take long before a Las Vegas woman saw the image of the child on television and called the girl's mother. The child was found safe in Las Vegas, and police say the mother identified the bedroom where the video was filmed. She told police that she and her daughter had moved from the apartment in late 2003.

Authorities don't plan to call the little girl to testify. Prosecutors say the images will speak for themselves.

A lawyer for the girl's mother says the child, now 8, doesn't remember the alleged assault.

"She's just a normal, happy kid _ a rambunctious kid at that," lawyer Jerry Donahue said. "She can't testify. She's got nothing really to say."

The mother has not spoken publicly about the case. Donahue said she was "trying to remain as anonymous as she can for as long as she can" and was trying to protect her daughter's identity.

"She knows she's going to have to testify," Donahue said of the single mother. "She's not looking forward to it. They've told her to expect a pretty thorough and difficult cross examination."

After Stiles was identified as the man in the video, authorities said he also was sought on a warrant issued in April 2006 on a charge of lewdness with a child under age 14.

That case stemmed from a 6-year-old girl's report in December 2003 that Stiles kissed and fondled her while he was staying the night at her home. The girl referred to Stiles as her boyfriend, police said.

Stiles was in the home visiting his girlfriend, who had been given shelter by the 6-year-old's parents after losing a job, police said.

Some 200 prospective jurors answered eight-page questionnaires containing 29 questions, including whether they can remain fair and impartial about evidence including the graphic videotape, and whether they can take part in a trial lasting two weeks or more.

Clark County District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti said she expects it will take several days to seat a jury of 12 people and three alternates.

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