Child-sex trial underway for defendant from Prescott Valley

Steven E. Tracey

Steven E. Tracey

CAMP VERDE – Steven E. Tracey, accused in a child-sex case, was in court Thursday, Jan. 5, before Judge Michael R. Bluff at Yavapai County Superior Court in Camp Verde for day two of a nine-day jury trial.

Tracey, of Prescott Valley, faces a seven-count indictment alleging sexual conduct with two children, 9 and 10 years old, between June 2011 and June 2014.

He is represented by defense attorneys Matthew Cochran and Andrew Falick.

Prescott Valley Police Detective Matt Hepperle took the witness stand Thursday.

Deputy County Attorney Michael McGill asked Hepperle the process of interviewing children during a sexual assault investigation.

Hepperle said a playroom is set up at an advocacy center, where the interviewer first establishes rapport. The child is then brought in to the interview room, he said. Children are always interviewed separately if possible.

During the interview, the child is first asked neutral, open-ended questions. Hepperle said this helps the child become comfortable. Guidelines are then presented to the child. The interviewer will repeat back what the child says, Hepperle said. If something is not clear or accurate, the child is asked to interject. The questions become more narrow and specific during the interview process, he said, and the interview is guided by what the child says.

A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) also examines the child, takes swabs, looks for injuries, and takes photos. The nurse then provides a report with findings and photos, Hepperle explained, adding that if a crime is sexual in nature, officials try to collect clothing for DNA evidence.

In June 2014, the young victims were interviewed separately by Hepperle. A SANE examined one of the girls, and turned her report and kit over to Prescott Valley Police.

A search warrant was then issued for Tracey’s home. Hepperle interviewed the woman who lived at the home while Detective Dan Hayes searched for evidence as described by the young victims. Sex toys were found in the locked closet of the master bedroom and seized, he said. Also seized were three computers. All were sent to Department of Public Safety for analysis, and Tracey was later arrested out of state.

Hepperle also testified he received a call from the woman of the home, saying she located a video camera that the detectives had been looking for, and it was turned over to authorities.

After the DPS crime lab analysis, it was determined that no DNA from either child was found on the sex toys, Hepperle said. Homemade videos were found on the computer, featuring the woman of the house using the sex toys, with a male suspect that resembled Tracey, he added. A search warrant was granted for Tracey’s cell phone, which was sent to DPS for examination. No child porn was found on the phone.

In October of that year, Hepperle interviewed a relative of Tracey’s. The relative spoke of allegations of sexual abuse by Tracey.

The relative took to the witness stand next, and explained his family dynamic to the courtroom. The relative, who is younger than Tracey, said incidents occurred multiple times between the ages of 4 and 8. Another relative, who is his age, was also involved in the sexual abuse, he said. The other relative disputes the claims.

During another incident, the relative said Tracey and a family friend both started grabbing him inappropriately, “being creepers.”

The relative said that Tracey warned him not to tell anyone, or else people would think he was gay.

Years later, the relative said he told his mother, which caused a split in the family. The abuse wasn’t reported to law enforcement, but he did talk about it with a probation officer in 2011.

After the alleged abuse of the young girls, the relative’s mother contacted authorities, which is how the relative became involved in the case.

At the end of the day’s questioning, one of the 14 members of the jury asked to have a chart or diagram of the family relationships. Judge Bluff told the attorneys that it may help the jurors keep track of the witnesses.

Jennifer Kucich is a reporter for the Verde Independent.