LAS VEGAS – The trial of a man charged in the videotaped sexual assault of a 2-year-old girl opened Monday with a prosecutor reading a letter in which the defendant told an ex-girlfriend, "I am a monster."
That letter and one other from Chester Arthur Stiles was found in a glass bottle buried in the desert. Prosecutor Mary Kay Holthus used the writings to former girlfriends to cast the Las Vegas man as full of self-loathing and wracked by guilt about his own abuse as a child and his attraction to the "purity and virtue" of prepubescent girls.
"'Somehow being abused has made my conscience a smaller voice than it should have been,"' Holthus said, quoting from one of the letters.
A VHS tape of the assault was given to Nye County sheriff's investigators in September 2007 by a man who said he found it five months earlier wrapped in a plastic bag beneath a piece of wood in a desert lot about 60 miles west of Las Vegas. That man, Darrin Tuck, later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct a public officer for the delay in turning in the video.
Stiles was arrested in Henderson in October 2007 after a nationwide search in which authorities distributed photo images from the videotape of the younger girl and a man's face to help find the child and her assailant.
Stiles' lawyer, Amy Coffee, told the Clark County District Court jury that despite the videotape, the letters and jail telephone recordings, prosecutors won't be able to prove the 22 felony charges against Stiles, who also is accused of molesting a 6-year-old girl. Twenty-one of the 22 charges carry sentences of life in prison.
Coffee took just four minutes to explain that the defense will challenge the authenticity of the videotape showing sexual contact with the 2-year-old in 2003, and will focus on inconsistencies in various accounts by the 6-year-old.
"In each interview, a different story was told, including at one point that nothing at all happened," the defense lawyer said.
Moments later, the courtroom hushed as the older girl, now an 11-year-old fifth-grader living in Washington state, pointed from the witness stand at the man she referred to as "Cheddars" and "Chowder" but not Chester.
"He touched me inappropriately," she said in a voice so soft and high the judge had to ask her to scoot closer to the microphone so she could be heard.
She recounted how Stiles kissed her on the mouth and reached under her clothing when they were alone in her bedroom. Prosecutors allege the molestation happened when Stiles and a girlfriend stayed the night at the girl's family's home in December 2003.
Holthus coaxed the girl to describe where and how she was touched.
"Between my legs," the girl replied.
Stiles, 38, of Las Vegas, sat stonefaced, occasionally passing a written note to his lawyers as the girl testified.
He 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.
Nineteen charges stem from acts shown on the video, which prosecutors plan to show the jury. Police said Stiles can be seen adjusting the camera as he molests the child.
Holthus and prosecutor Jim Sweetin have said they don't plan to call the younger girl to testify. A lawyer for the girl's mother said the child, now 8, doesn't remember being assaulted.
The letters Holthus read were found in the desert outside Las Vegas, in a glass bottle that also contained the title to Stiles' car and his photo. Stiles disclosed the location of the bottle to police after his arrest.
"'I'm a monster and what I've done there's no making up for,"' Holthus read from the letter. "'I'm very sorry for the girls I've abused. I wish I could take it back."'
The letter continues with Stiles asserting that he "'didn't rape or penetrate anyone."'