Weatherford man convicted after caught on video destroying evidence of child porn




  • In US
  • 2021-10-22 19:11:00Z
  • By Weatherford Democrat, Texas

Oct. 22-A Weatherford man caught on video smashing a computer with a hammer so its contents could not be seized by police was convicted of destroying evidence and sentenced to prison in a trial that concluded in Weatherford on Wednesday.

After deliberating only 15 minutes, a Parker County jury found Joe Eddie Stephens, 71, guilty of tampering with evidence and promotion of child pornography. Stephens was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the pornography offense and 10 years for the tampering charge, the maximum sentence provided by Texas law.

"While the computer was totally destroyed, we did recover a single video depicting child pornography from Mr. Stephens' cell phone," said District Attorney Jeff Swain. "In the video, he covertly recorded an elementary school-aged child while she changed clothes."

The case began when Stephens' son came home early and found Stephens had picked up two young girls from school under the guise that they were going to swim with his granddaughter. The son became concerned when he realized that the granddaughter was not there and that Stephens was taking pictures of the two girls posing provocatively in their swimsuits.

That concern led the son to check the browser history on Stephens' computer. What he found led him to believe that his father was accessing child pornography on the computer.

"When Mr. Stephens was confronted by family members, he blamed 'other people' that he said must have accessed his computer," Swain said. "When the family didn't buy that, he said he was lonely and then threatened to commit suicide, which is what led to Weatherford PD being called."

Before WPD officers arrived, however, Stephens became enraged, pulled the computer plug out of the wall, and threw the computer tower against a brick fireplace before taking it out to the garage.

"Once in the garage, while being recorded by his wife, Mr. Stephens smashed the computer 24 times with a claw hammer," Swain said.

On the video, Stephens' wife can be heard telling him to stop and that he is only making things worse for himself. He responds by saying, "They got this as evidence." He then starts hitting the computer with the hammer.

When Weatherford officers arrived, they interviewed Stephens and seized the broken computer and his cell phone. After they obtained a search warrant to examine the phone, they found the video of child pornography as well as videos of the girls in the swimsuits.

"Throughout the defendant's phone, we found numerous images of what is known as child erotica," said Assistant District Attorney Travis Warner, who tried the case for the prosecution along with Assistant District Attorney Abby Placke. "Those images were of prepubescent girls dressed in lingerie posed in sexually provocative ways. While they were not child pornography, the pictures sexualized children in a way that should be offensive to everyone."

Swain said promotion includes both distribution and creation for child pornography cases under Texas law.

"Mr. Stephens will be eligible for parole when his time served plus his good time equals a quarter of his sentence, which is three years," Placke said. "Hopefully, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles will see Mr. Stephens for the community safety risk he is and keep him for most of his sentence."

"As a concept, it can be difficult to find that something that was completely destroyed was evidence or contained evidence because, since it was destroyed, how would you know?" Swain added. "We were glad that the jury overcame that hurdle by looking at the circumstantial evidence surrounding the computer's destruction. A defendant should not be allowed to benefit from destroying the evidence needed to convict them and our jury held Mr. Stephens accountable for doing exactly that."

The trial was held in the 415th District Court, with Judge Graham Quisenberry presiding.

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