LAS VEGAS – Jurors grimly viewed key evidence in the trial of a man accused of sexually assaulting two little girls in separate incidents in 2003.
Several jurors dabbed their eyes with tissues in a hushed courtroom late Friday as they watched a video showing the defendant, Chester Arthur Stiles, whisper to a 2-year-old while he repositioned her on a bed for various sex acts.
"Do you like that? Does it feel good?" Stiles asks the girl near the end of the 15-minute video, which the judge deemed so disturbing that she closed the courtroom to all but a few news reporters, security officers and court officials during the viewing.
Clark County District Judge Jennifer Togliatti also banned cameras, cell phones and recorders after granting access to five reporters who filed written applications to watch what she called — outside the jury's presence — "as graphic a child pornography video that anyone has ever observed."
Stiles, 38, kept his eyes on notes he wrote on a yellow legal pad and passed to one of his two defense lawyers while jurors watched the video.
He faces multiple terms of life in prison if convicted of any of 21 charges of lewdness with a child under the age of 14 and sexual assault with a minor under 14. He also faces two to 20 years if convicted of a charge of attempted sexual assault with a minor under 14.
One juror, sitting directly in front of the flat-screen monitor, closed his eyes several times and clutched a tissue in his clenched fist against the bridge of his nose. He stared down into the jury box for several moments after the video ended.
No one spoke. As the nine men and five women filed solemnly out of the courtroom afterward, one middle-aged man glanced toward Stiles sitting at the defendant's table. The other 13 kept their eyes fixed straight ahead.
"Everything builds up to the video," prosecutor Jim Sweetin said of the VHS tape, which prosecutors say Stiles filmed with the girl in a Las Vegas apartment sometime between April and August 2003.
Stiles also is accused of sexually assaulting a 6-year-old girl while he and a girlfriend spent two nights as guests at the girl's Las Vegas home in December 2003. That girl, now 11 and living in Washington state, testified Monday.
The video is the crucial piece of evidence that Stiles allegedly committed 19 felonious acts on the toddler, now 8. She has not testified. Her mother told the jury Wednesday the child has no recollection of the taped encounter with Stiles.
The video surfaced in September 2007 when an ex-convict and admitted methampetamine user turned it in to Nye County sheriff's deputies in Pahrump, saying he found it in the desert about 60 miles west of Las Vegas.
Authorities released photo images from it to locate the child in Las Vegas, and mounted a nationwide manhunt that led to Stiles' arrest in October 2007 in Henderson.
Also Friday, the jury heard an audiotape of a jailhouse telephone call in which Stiles tells an unidentified woman he is aware of what the video shows.
"I, you know, can't deny what's on the video," he says. "And I'm not proud of it. But that's the facts. I'm sorry."
"I don't even know what to say, Chet," the woman responds.
"I don't either," Stiles says. "I'm just gonna sit back and take my medicine."
Prosecutors are expected to rest their case Monday.
Stiles' lawyers have not said if he will testify during the defense portion of the case, which could last less than a day.
The defense lost bids to prevent letters by Stiles, the jail audio, and the video from being entered as evidence.
But they have said they plan to challenge the authenticity of the tape, which they maintain has been edited.
Stiles received a warning from Togliatti during testimony earlier Friday after protesting aloud about jailhouse letters entered as evidence against him.
"It's all taken out of context," Stiles blurted while a former girlfriend, Susan Windrem, read a letter in which he acknowledged making "horrible decisions," but denied being "a predator."
Togliatti allowed Windrem to continue her testimony. Once the jury left the room, she warned Stiles he faced "ramifications" if he disrupted the trial again.