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Jurors watch graphic tape in toddler sex case

Accused molester says in taped phone conversation he was raped as a child

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Justin M. Bowen

Chester Stiles looks over a letter on Friday he wrote to former girlfriend Susan Windrem.

Updated Friday, Feb. 27, 2009 | 10:18 p.m.

Chester Stiles trial on Friday

Defense attorneys Amy Coffee, right, and Stacey Roundtree quiet Chester A. Stiles after an outburst Friday. He became visibly upset for the first time since his trial started when excerpts from letters he wrote to former girlfriend Susan Windrem were read aloud. Launch slideshow »

Jurors in the trial of accused child rapist Chester A. Stiles appeared somber Friday evening as they entered District Court Judge Jennifer P. Togliatti's courtroom and seated themselves in front of a television monitor.

The monitor would soon display the graphic videotape of a man sexually assaulting a 2-year-old girl. The tape is a key piece of evidence in the case against Stiles and triggered a nationwide manhunt in 2007.

Before the jury entered the room, Togliatti said the tape was clearly child pornography.

One juror had sent a note to the judge asking that as few people as possible be in the courtroom when the tape was shown. Togliatti said she took the concerns of the jury into account when she barred the public from the courtroom while the tape was shown, saying open access to the court while the video was played wasn't fair to the child victim or to jurors.

While five news reporters sat in the gallery, no photography or videography was allowed and the view of the videotape was restricted, although still visible from some areas of the courtroom.

A box of tissues was passed around before the tape began, and within the first few minutes, some jury members dabbed their eyes. Others blinked hard. Some shook their heads, arms crossed.

One man held his face in his right hand, covering up one eye.

As the tape played, the courtroom was silent. At the tape's beginning, the man, who has been identified by several witnesses as Stiles, refers to the child by her name, and a few times throughout the tape the child can be heard murmuring and whimpering.

It is the policy of the Las Vegas Sun not to identify victims of sexual abuse.

As the tape begins, the man moves the girl around a bedroom and lifts up her dress. Later in the tape, the man and the child both appear nude.

During the assault, the man repositions the camera several times and films different angles of sex acts.

About 10 minutes into the 15-minute tape he's heard saying, "Do you like that? Does that feel good?"

The apartment where the video was filmed has been identified as the Las Vegas address that was shared by the toddler, the toddler's mother and the adult daughter of Tina Allen, the girlfriend of Stiles when the alleged assault occurred in 2003. The girl's mother testified in court this week that her daughter has no memory of the incident.

Despite being visibly shaken by the tape, none of the jurors looked away while it played. At its conclusion, some jurors held their heads; a few stared at the floor.

Stiles was in the courtroom but wasn't able to see the tape. As it played, he wrote notes on a legal pad and shared them with his attorney, Amy Coffee. No emotion crossed his face.

Earlier in the day, jurors heard testimony from a former girlfriend and an FBI agent involved with the hunt for Stiles in 2007.

FBI Agent Andrew Gruninger was one of several officers who spoke with Stiles at the Clark County Detention Center the night of his arrest.

He said Stiles had directed authorities to a Frappuccino bottle he hid in the desert that contained several letters, as well as a key to a storage unit in Pahrump. The unit had been rented for Stiles by former girlfriend Susan Windrem, Gruninger said.

Windrem took the stand Friday morning.

Deputy District Attorney James Sweetin asked Gruninger to read aloud some of the letters that were in the bottle.

Click to enlarge photo

An excerpt from a letter Chester Stiles wrote to former girlfriend Susan Windrem while incarcerated at the Clark County Detention Center.

In a letter addressed to "Claudia, Tina, Susan, Elaine," he writes, "I don't want to be specific, but I was repeatedly molested as a kid." He then goes on to say that "somehow being abused made my conscience a smaller voice than it should have been."

Stiles spoke in court Friday for the first time since his trial began last week.

He became upset when Windrem read aloud to the court excerpts from letters he had written to her while incarcerated at the Clark County Detention Center.

"It's all taken out of context," he said from the defendant's desk as Sweetin questioned Windrem. Stiles' attorneys, Coffee and Stacey Roundtree, quieted him promptly and he made no further comments. Throughout the trial Stiles has remained stoic and shown no emotion -- not even when one of his alleged victims, now 11, took the stand and told her story.

In one of the letters Windrem read aloud, Stiles wrote, "I have no defense -- I'm done!"

He wrote that he was most concerned about his legacy, and that he wanted to be remembered as a "man who made bad decisions" and not as a "predator."

"When I first came here, I felt I deserved whatever they gave me ... but things have changed," he wrote about the time he had spent in jail.

It was shortly after she read that line that Stiles made his comment. Afterward, he kept his jaw clinched tightly.

The jury and Windrem left the courtroom and Togliatti addressed Stiles, telling him to refrain from making further comments. She said when defendants speak, it's disruptive to the courtroom and can also have implications in their defense.

Stiles, still visibly upset, had to be prompted by his attorneys to respond to the judge.

Also Friday, prosecutors played for the jury a recording of a phone call Stiles made from jail to a woman they identified as a former girlfriend.

"A lot of who I am is because of the way my mother raised me," Stiles tells the woman. "I was raped and given drugs as a (expletive) 5, 6-year-old child because she dumped me off on whoever would take me so she could go on the road with the Rolling Stones or the Doobie Brothers or whatever.

"So, I kinda hold her a little responsible for the ... sexually twisted person that, you know, that some people think I am." He later says on the tape he was "brutally raped a few times."

"The things they said, the things that that videotape shows ain't nothin' compared to what I've, what I've had done to me, you know what I mean?" he said.

He apologizes to the woman several times throughout the phone call.

"I can't deny what's on the video, and I'm not proud of it, but that's the facts. I'm sorry," he says.

Stiles faces 22 charges of sexual assault and lewdness, 21 of which can carry a life sentence, in connection with acts he allegedly committed in 2003. He's accused of abusing two young girls in 2003.

He was arrested in 2007 in Henderson on a routine traffic stop after a nationwide manhunt. The case gained attention in 2007 when images from the videotape that allegedly shows a man abusing a toddler were released in an attempt to identify the girl and the man.

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