Friday saw a grim sight in a Las Vegas court room. The sight was so grim and disturbing that Judge Jennifer Togliatti closed the court and forbade the use of cell phones and cameras. In this day and age, the closing down of a court for only part of the proceedings is uncommon, but in this case, it is most assuredly understandable.
The trail that she closed to the public and to recording devices other than those of an official nature is that of Chester Arthur Stiles. In 2007, a nation wide manhunt for Stiles was issued by the FBI and Las Vegas police after video clips of him performing sexual acts with a child of two made their way onto the internet. Stiles was identified as the man in the video. The video shows him manipulating the child into various positions for a variety of sexual acts during the fifteen minute clip. He is heard whispering to her several times to soothe her and asking if what he is doing “feels good”.
If convicted, Stiles will be in jail for the rest of his life. He faces multiple life sentences for his alleged crimes. Stiles has been warned about outbursts in the court, especially after his jail house correspondences were admitted into evidence. Those correspondences appear to implicate Stiles in this crime. He protested verbally in court that those correspondences were taken out of context. His major defense in the trial is that the video has been edited to make it look like he is committing these acts. On Monday, the other child he molested testified. While the two year old girl, who is now eight, cannot remember the assault, the six year old girl he molested, who is now eleven, does.
Even without the tape, many of the crimes Stiles is on trial for could keep him in jail for a very long time. Nevada has a Jessica’s Law. Stiles, if convicted only of molesting the older of the two girls, would spend his life behind in jail.
Vermont recently passed a modified version of Jessica’s Law in order to toughen the laws concerning sex offenders as well as to close many loopholes in the current rehabilitation system. The law bows to prosecutor desire to have the ability to offer plea deals in some cases. The minimum sentence that can be offered is ten years in jail. However, if the crime goes to trial, the minimum sentence is twenty-five years. The change in law was championed by Republican Lt. Governor Brian Dubie.
While many claim that sexual molestation laws must be toughened, including Bill O’Reilly, who lambasted a Vermont politician for not supporting new sex offender laws the day after he had voted for them, the Conservative groups claiming that they want to protect children often seem rather silent on the matter. Most of the push for these laws come from victim’s groups. In Vermont, the push for new laws covering child molestation occurred after the death of Brooke Bennett, a twelve year old girl who was raped and murdered by her uncle, Michael Jacques. Instead, many of those Conservative groups push the idea that they are protecting children from molestation by demonizing homosexuals. Neither Chester Stiles nor Michael Jacques were molesting boys. Nothing was said by groups such as the American Family Association nor Focus on the Family concerning the Brooke Bennett case. The Bennett case made national headlines during the search for her. We here in Vermont monitored the situation closely.
During the debate over Brooke’s Law in Vermont, it was pointed out that the system to track sex offenders is fairly broken. A synchronized system across the country is needed to track sex offenders. Unfortunately, that kind of system, which has been proposed for all crimes across the country, was trashed by the Bush Administration. Europol has a complete database of all criminals across all EU member nations and can track down all criminals and alleged criminals through that network. Many sex offenders move and do not update their registry. While this is also a violation of the law, it is also exposing a flaw in the system. Michael Jacques committed a number of crimes dating back to 1987, as far as have been confirmed. Legal loopholes and lost or destroyed records often meant that he was able to get out and reoffend. Among the loopholes closed with Brooke’s Law is that records for sex offense cases where the person goes into rehabilitation because they have committed an offense deemed minor enough that rehabilitation is possible will not be destroyed. Instead, those records will be kept. Jacques manipulated the system in order to keep himself out of jail as often as he could.
Michael Jacques faces the likelihood of execution for his crimes. Vermont does not have the death penalty, but Jacques is charged with a number of Federal crimes which, because they centered around a murder, carry the death penalty. Should the Federal case fall through, he will still be charged in Vermont, where he will likely spend the rest of his life in jail.
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As a personal aside, for those who have read my piece about being molested, it is incredibly difficult to write about these cases without any kind of prejudice or anger. I have done my best in this article to keep the tone neutral and the information accurate. My views on such men as Stiles and Jacques are probably not printable. Being molested leaves wounds which often leave life long scars. It personally angers me that people use child molestation cases and accusations to politically and socially attack others. Doing so often leads to greater trauma for those who have suffered these crimes, and causes trauma to those who have been falsely accused.
Sei is a trans-lesbian who lives in Vermont and has a strong passion for LGBTI rights. She has a BA in History and her hobbies include sci-fi, anime, fantasy, action movies, video games, and more.