GALVESTON — It was another emotion-packed day during the ongoing trial of Steven McDowell, who is charged with strangling his ex-wife, Crystal, in 2017, as video testimony of the couple’s young daughter was shown to the jury.
Sobs could be heard throughout the courtroom as the little girl described watching the murder of her mother when she was 5 years old.
The girl was asked by Chambers County District Attorney Cheryl Lieck if she wrote the words she wrote on one of the drawings, which said, “Why did you get mad and kill mom and make her not breathe?”
The girl said she did and gave the drawing to her “mom,” which is what she calls Mandy Avalos, a longtime friend of Crystal McDowell’s who has custody of the two children.
When asked why, the girl replied it was to “show her what he did.” Lieck asked her who she meant, and the girl said, “Dad.”
Lieck asked the girl if she saw what happened to her mother, and she said, “Yes.”
Describing the scene in her 7-year-old voice, the girl said she was in the bathroom and saw him.
“They were arguing about mom divorcing with him. They were already divorced, but dad was arguing because he didn’t want her to be with another man,” the then-5-year-old girl said. “She said, ‘I am going to go away and take my children with me.’ So, he pushed her on the bed and said, ‘No, you’re not.’”
The girl told how she saw Steven McDowell take his hands and slam them on Crystal McDowell’s face hard. The girl said Crystal McDowell tried to put her hands and feet up, but Steven McDowell put his weight on her. At one point, she said her father looked at her.
“He glanced at me and was really mad at me,” the girl said. “And mom tried to say ‘help,’ but I couldn’t hear her.”
The girl said Crystal McDowell also looked at her “very sadly.” She said her father told her to go to her room and not to tell anyone what happened, including her brother.
Avalos had testified earlier the girl did tell her what happened one day in her “secret room,” a place in her home where the two could talk out of range of the girl’s brother.
After Steven McDowell had choked the life out of Crystal McDowell, the girl said she, her father and brother had breakfast with doughnuts and kolaches.
“I was really afraid,” she said.
Usually, the girl said she and her brother slept in the same bed with their father, but the night before, he apparently had told her to sleep in her own bed.
The girl talked about a conversation she later had with her father, where she asked him why did he kill her mom.
“He said I couldn’t control myself,” the girl said.
The girl told Lieck she did not want to talk to her father anymore and that her brother also has stopped talking to him.
“When he calls, we don’t answer it anymore,” she said. “No one told us to stop (talking to him).”
When Keaton Kirkwood, Steven McDowell’s defense attorney, asked the girl about why she also wrote letters to her father decorated with hearts, she said, “At first I tried to forgive him, but he wouldn’t say he is sorry.”
The McDowell’s 10-year-old son also testified via video. While he did not say he witnessed anything, he said his sister told him what happened some months later.
“She said she was scared to say anything,” the boy said when asked why she did not say something sooner.
After the video testimony, Lieck said the state rests their case. Then Kirkwood, who had declined to give an opening statement at the beginning of the trial, gave one to the jury.
“I want you to focus on the evidence and the discrepancies you have heard,” Kirkwood said.
The defense attorney called Tamara Shipley, Steven McDowell’s former neighbor. She described him as a “sweet” guy who would always stop and chat with her or bring food. She added she never saw him hurt his children.
Mary Louise Johnston, Steven McDowell’s mother, as well as his sisters, Heather Ann Simpson and Erika Prigmore, all testified saying he was great with his children and seemed to get along well with Crystal McDowell.
Krysta McDowell, Steven McDowell’s older daughter, testified, sometimes through tears, that her father is a “good man” who was “goofy” and “kept life entertaining.”
As far as Crystal McDowell, Krysta McDowell said she “made the rules and he followed them.” She also said Steven McDowell told her Crystal McDowell had said to him to either “pick me or your daughter.” She added Crystal did not speak to her.
Lieck brought up the March 2017 incident to Krysta McDowell where Crystal McDowell had called Baytown police saying her husband had taken off with the kids after making threats. The police had followed Steven McDowell’s cell phone pings, one of them to Round Rock where Krysta McDowell allegedly lived.
“I do not live in Round Rock, and he did not come and see me,” she said. “But, I realized he was going through something since it was my birthday and he didn’t say ‘Happy Birthday.’ I checked his Facebook page and he was posting really sad stuff like changing profile picture to the Grim Reaper. I reached out to him, and asked if he was Ok. But, I didn’t hear from him for days. Finally, he replied, and he said he was doing fine and was going through something and sorry about not saying ‘Happy Birthday’ and he was in Galveston, having fun on the beach.”
Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne was also called to the stand. He described Steven McDowell as “calm and likeable” but also “set in his ways.”
Hawthorne said Steven McDowell had helped some illiterate inmates to learn how to read, but also complained about the cleanliness of the jail.
“He doesn’t take the answers you give him well,” Hawthorne said. “And he would try to push an alternative.”
There was some laughter when Lieck asked if Steven McDowell was not only teaching inmates to read but also “how to complain.”
Hawthorne said he also believed Steven McDowell killed his ex-wife so no one else could love her.
“He never said he was sorry about killing Crystal,” he said.
Testimony is expected to continue next week with Cindy Seratte, Crystal McDowell’s aunt.
Lieck was asked how long she thinks the case will last.
“There is no telling,” Lieck said.