GALVESTON - After deliberating for close to three-and-a-half hours, a jury has determined Steven McDowell is guilty in the murder of his ex-wife, Crystal McDowell.
Steven McDowell showed little emotion as the verdict was read, a complete contrast to his earlier emotional state, when he testified through tears how he claimed to “love her more than anything in the world.”
Chambers County District Attorney Cheryl Lieck said Steven McDowell faces life in prison with a full range of five to 99 years. He was not charged with capital murder, and the death penalty was waived since he agreed to lead authorities to Crystal McDowell’s body.
After the verdict was read, Judge Chap B. Cain III asked if the prosecution, led by Lieck, and defense attorney, Keaton Kirkwood, were ready for the punishment phase of the trial. Both said they were and the second phase began immediately.
Members of Crystal McDowell’s family packed the Constitutional Courtroom of the Galveston County Justice Center Tuesday where Judge Chap B. Cain III of the 253rd District Court in Chambers County is presiding.
Before the case was handed to the jury, Steven McDowell took the stand for a second day, again defending his claim he “hugged” Crystal McDowell to death instead of strangling her with his hands.
Kirkwood asked when Steven McDowell “hugged” Crystal McDowell if he knew it would end the way it did.
“No, sir,” he replied.
Kirkwood asked if he loved her and his kids. McDowell said he did.
Kirkwood asked if Steven McDowell felt remorse.
“Yes, every day,” he said.
Then, Kirkwood asked if he choked Crystal McDowell and he denied he did.
Kirkwood also asked Steven McDowell what were his emotions as he sat in the witness chair.
“Sad. Shame. Sorry for everybody I hurt,” he said, choking on tears.
Lieck asked about the text messages between Crystal McDowell and Steven McDowell. One was dated Aug. 23, two days before Crystal McDowell was killed. She typed to her ex-husband, “Please move on with your life and stop manipulating the kids and using them as pawns.” And then she sent a text saying, “you’re still acting crazy” and “I wanted a divorce years ago.”
Another text from Crystal McDowell read, “I spent years trying to keep it together for the children in an unhappy marriage.”
Lieck said Steven McDowell lied for days after Crystal McDowell’s disappearance to her friends, family and law enforcement. She pointed out how he even sent fake texts messages to her, knowing she was already dead.
Before confessing to Crystal McDowell’s murder, Steven McDowell said he took some time to get situated to “do the right thing.” He said he first wanted to see his children, talk to Mandy Avalos, a friend of Crystal McDowell’s who now has the couple’s two children, and his older daughter, Krysta.
When Lieck showed a picture in the courtroom of Crystal McDowell on the screen, Steven McDowell burst into tears.
“Is that the woman you killed,” Lieck asked.
Steven McDowell said she was and Lieck showed him a picture of her body after it had been in the woods for nearly two weeks.
“How do you properly bury that, Steve?” she said. “That is your own work, and you do not even want to look at it.”
Steven McDowell, crying, said he didn’t want to remember Crystal McDowell that way.
“Well, the truth hurts, doesn’t it? “ Lieck said.
During the punishment phase, Avalos was called to the stand said she was still going to have to get Steven McDowell to release custody of the children before she could get full custody, per Crystal McDowell’s wishes. Lieck made the point if Steven McDowell was to get out of prison within 20 years, he would still have parental rights unless he released them.
Kirkwood called Steven McDowell back to the stand, where he said his wish was for his children to be adopted and change their last name to Crystal McDowell’s maiden name.
“I want them to have a last name they can be proud of,” Steven McDowell said.
Steven McDowell was asked by Kirkwood is he regretted what happened.
“Yes,” he said, through a flood of tears. “I apologize for not saying I was sorry earlier, and I don’t expect them to forgive me because I cannot forgive myself.”
Kirkwood, in his closing arguments, said Crystal McDowell was Steven McDowell’s love, and they had two children.
“She was his princess,” Kirkwood said. “Crystal McDowell was a mad hatter and wore many hats. She wore one for her family. One for Steven. One for the other men in her life. He had ample opportunity to do her harm if he wanted to do so for each of the affairs that happened. But he never caused any harm. Steven has no violent history.”
Lieck said, in her closing statement, the case is “all about Steve.”
“He hugged her to death? I have to say that is a new one on me,” Lieck said.
Lieck said never once did Steven McDowell say in his confession he “hugged” his ex-wife to death. She also reminded the jury of Charles Raven’s testimony, where he said Steven McDowell told him in March 2017, months before Crystal McDowell’s death, how he wanted to kill her and himself over alleged affairs. She also brought up Baytown police officer Jose Gonzalez’s testimony, where he said Crystal McDowell had come to him around the same time, saying Steven McDowell had threated to kill her, himself and the kids and took off without saying where he was going.
Lieck told about how, according to Avalos’ testimony, the couple’s then-five-year-old girl told them about a black dress shaking and how “evil spirits” took her mother, the day after Crystal McDowell disappeared. In addition, she talked about Chambers County inmate, Easton Isaacks, who testified Steven McDowell told him how he killed Crystal McDowell.
“What does he have to gain?” Lieck said. “(Steven McDowell) freaked him out by pretending to choke him as if it were a joke. He was a dope head, but knows nothing about murder. He said Steven was weird.”
Testimony was offered during the punishment phase regarding Steven McDowell’s mental state.
Assistant DA Ed Shettle asked Dr. Mohammed Hamza about psychological tests he performed on Steven McDowell.
Hamza said Steven McDowell displayed no brain damage or psychological problems with him.
“When nothing is found, there is no excuse for a crime,” Hamza said.
Hamza performed the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test on Steven McDowell.
“He says he always tells the truth,” Shettle said. He cannot say he is a liar.”
Testimony in the punishment phase of the trial will continue today with a sentence from the jury expected before the end of the day.