Published Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009 | 1:20 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009 | 7:25 p.m.
The man who said he found a videotape in the desert of another man engaged in sex acts with a toddler girl testified Wednesday in the case of accused child rapist Chester A. Stiles.
Darrin Tuck, 28, told the court he found the tape wrapped in a plastic Wal-Mart bag under a fallen wooden sign in a vacant lot off Murphy Street in Pahrump.
Tuck said he had tried to move the sign to build a ramp for his dirt bike when the bag caught his eye. He took the tape home and hid it in a vacant trailer near the home he shared with his girlfriend and her children.
Tuck testified that he played the tape a few days later. He said he advanced through static until he reached images on the tape. The recording begins out of focus, he said, but then the camera becomes stable and the focus improves.
He said a little girl gets moved in front of the camera, and then "somebody lifts up her dress."
At that point, Tuck said, he shut off the tape.
“I was afraid I might have come across child pornography,” Tuck said. “… If you’d have found child pornography, wouldn’t you be a little scared, too?”
He told the court that discarded pornographic materials -- DVDs, tapes and magazines -- are commonplace in Pahrump. He said he suspected that despite being unmarked, the tape might have contained pornography, which is why he opted to watch it outside the presence of his girlfriend and her children.
Disturbed by what he saw, he said he wrapped the tape in a shirt and buried it under the trailer, where it remained for several months.
Tuck, who has a history of drug abuse and served prison time in Texas for possession of a controlled substance, said being under the influence of drugs clouded his judgment.
He told defense attorney Stacey Roundtree that at the time he found the tape he was "runnin' and gunnin'" on methamphetamine.
He said he started to get clean after a stint in jail for failing to pay child support, but seeing a preacher at the Thomas & Mack Center with his father is what spurred him to make changes in his life. He alerted police to the tape shortly afterward, he said.
“Some of the things he (the preacher) said really hit my heart and I needed to come clean,” he told Deputy District Attorney James Sweetin during questioning Wednesday.
Tuck admitted several times on the stand that he had not been truthful with officers. He said it took several interviews with Nye County deputies before he told them the truth about how long the tape had been in his possession.
"I didn't want him to look at me badly or to get into any more trouble," he said, referring to his previous incarcerations when asked why he lied. He was in a drug court program at the time he turned over the tape, he said.
"I knew something had to be done," he told the court. "Maybe I could save this girl's life. Maybe it wasn't too late."
Tuck is on probation for obstruction of a public officer in connection with the videotape. He initially was charged with possession of child pornography for holding onto the tape for so long and allegedly showing it to others, but he pleaded to the lesser charge.
His prior run-ins with authorities over the tape made him apprehensive about giving his testimony, he said.
Stiles was arrested after the release of images from the graphic videotape, which allegedly shows the sexual assault of a 2-year-old girl.
District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti had ruled early Wednesday that the video was too graphic to let a court audience and reporters see when it is shown to the jury. That decision was clarified in the afternoon when reporters raised concerns about openness in the court.
Members of the media will view the tape separate from the jury and after the jury has seen the tape. The jury will be shielded from the reaction of reporters, court spokesman Michael Sommermeyer said.
Like other evidence, the tape will be available in the county’s evidence vault. However, because child pornography is deemed to be contraband, there will be more stringent guidelines for who has access to it, Sommermeyer said.
“It’s a crime to distribute child pornography, so why would the court engage in distributing child pornography?” he said.
The main importance is displaying the tape to the jury, Sommermeyer said. The physical layout of the courtroom won't permit reporters to view the tape at the same time as jurors because jurors must not be able to see reactions to the tape, which could influence jurors' interpretation of events, Sommermeyer said.
Reporters will be able to see jurors and hear audio from the tape when it's shown to the jury.
“We have to allow the trial to present itself in a way that’s fair to the court and to the jury,” said District Court Judge Douglas Herndon, who was acting as a media liaison.
The tape is expected to be shown Thursday.
Because investigators weren’t able to identify the man or the child in the videotape, they took the unusual step in 2007 of releasing images – including an image of the victim – to the public. A Las Vegas woman recognized the girl and alerted the girl’s mother, who then contacted police.
The girl's mother took the stand Wednesday. She told the court she knew Stiles because she and her daughter, age 2 at the time, in 2003 lived with the daughter of Stiles' girlfriend, Tina Allen.
The mother worked two jobs -- one at a casino and the other at a pizza business -- and often found herself working 12-hour days, six days a week. Allen's daughter, who also had a young child in the home, did not work and would watch the children.
The last time the girl's mother saw Stiles was 2007 a few days before she saw a television news report on the alleged videotaped assault. After seeing the report, she contacted the Nye County Sheriff's Office and detectives met with her at her home. She said she recognized the armoire, the television, the sheets and the little girl's dress in images released to the public
"(The detectives) asked how I knew it was her. I explained to them that it was because of the bedroom and the dress," she said.
Although she didn't recognize the image of her daughter that was released to the media, she recognized other images of the girl from a tape detectives brought to her.
She said she took a photo of one of her daughter's birthmarks and gave it to detectives. She also gave them the sheets shown in the tape, which she still owned.
Her mother said the girl, now 8 years old, has no memory of the alleged assault.
Stiles has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of sexual assault with a minor under 14, 10 counts of lewdness with a child under 14 and one count of attempted sexual assault with a minor under 14. In addition to the child in the tape, he also is charged with assaulting another girl who was 6 years old at the time of the alleged assault in 2003. Testimony in her case ended Wednesday morning after Metro Police Detective John Baltas took the stand.
The older girl, now 11, testified Monday. Her parents and family friends testified Tuesday. She said Stiles “touched her inappropriately” when he stayed the night at the family’s home in December 2003.
Baltas, who interviewed the older girl at Sunrise Hospital after she was examined for signs of sexual abuse, said many of the girl’s statements at the time of the initial interview were inconsistent. He also said he interviewed her late at night – about 11 p.m. – and she seemed tired and cranky.
Public defender Amy Coffee focused on the inconsistencies during her cross-examination.
She pointed to specific points in police reports where the girl responded to the same question in two different ways. When asked if the man had “touched her privates,” she at first said “no” but when asked again later, she said “yes.”
Baltas interviewed Stiles in 2004. He said he had asked Stiles if police would find any DNA or pubic hairs in the girl’s bedroom.
Baltas said Stiles responded, “When you take off your shoes at the end of the day, don’t you find pubic hairs in your socks?”
A warrant for Stiles’ arrest was issued in April 2004. Authorities learned that Stiles might have been hiding in California and he wasn't arrested until 2007, at the height of a manhunt after images from the videotape were released.
According to information released after the arrest, Henderson Police Officer Mike Dye pulled over a white Buick Century with no plates near the intersection of Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road. The driver pulled into a parking lot and handed the officer a California driver’s license.
Police said the photo on the license looked nothing like the driver. Dye and another officer questioned the man, and he ultimately revealed his name.
“I’m Chester Stiles, the guy you’re looking for,” he told police.