Lengthy sentence fails to satisfy victim’s family

A man who murdered his wife, hid the body in the trunk of her car and then dumped it in a forest area was handed a 50-year sentence for his crime. 

A jury in a Galveston courtroom had already found Steven McDowell, 46, guilty of murdering Crystal McDowell, 37, his ex-wife, earlier this week. He killed her, claiming he “hugged” her to death, after she came to a home they still shared on the morning of Aug. 25, 2017, the day Hurricane Harvey arrived. According to video testimony from the couple’s young daughter, she witnessed her father kill her mother. Another child was upstairs asleep. 

Steven McDowell will have to serve a flat 25 years before he is eligible for parole.

Jeff Walters, Crystal McDowell’s uncle, was among many in the courtroom who gasped when the sentence was read. 

“He took her from us, and he deserves worse,” Walters shouted, struggling through tears. “He was given leniency, in my opinion. He did exactly what he was going to do. He said he was going to destroy her so she couldn’t be with anyone else. I think it is wrong and he should stay there for the remainder of his life. I hope he suffers through it.”

Walters described Crystal McDowell as a “bright, shining angel.”

“He took her from her babies,” Walters said. “That little girl had to watch her mother die. She cried at the funeral when she saw her mother’s picture. It is just wrong. He deserves worse.”

Linda Avalos, who let Crystal McDowell stay with her while she was growing up, agreed the sentence was not enough.

“He’ll be out in 25 (years),” Avalos said. “It is not enough when you take a life. Those babies will grow up without their mother. And for that girl to see what happened to her mother and him to say it didn’t happen that way? 50 years is not enough. I hope he is miserable every day of his life.”

Avalos described Crystal McDowell as a loving person.

“She adored those kids. And he just takes it all away,” Avalos said. “She would help anybody that needed help. She was always like that.”

Neither Chambers County District Attorney Cheryl Lieck nor defense attorney Keaton D. Kirkwood opted to take a poll of the jury. 

Kirkwood said Steven McDowell could appeal the sentence if he so chooses.

“We have not discussed that as of yet,” Kirkwood said. “I’ll give him time to digest that and see what he wants to do in the very near future.”

Tami Bedinger, a friend of Crystal McDowell’s who worked with her at Virginia Malone & Associates, said she was not happy with the sentence. 

“I’m definitely happy that the jury did not do crime of passion, because that is not what it was at all,” Bedinger said. “But (Crystal and I) talked everyday about Steve. When I met him for the first time, I told Jeff (Walters) there is something wrong with him.”

Bedinger said the prosecution and jury didn’t get the full story.

“They didn’t know the real timeline (of her affairs),” Bedinger said. “There are only two and the one guy she got an email from, she knew him before Steven and her were together and were even engaged. They bring up stuff and make it sound like she was a horrible person, but she just wanted love.”

Bedinger said Crystal McDowell had found true love with Paul Hargrave, the man she was dating at the time of her death.

“She kept saying she was happy and happier than she had ever been,” she said. 

Bedinger spoke about the job Lieck did as a prosecutor.

“My honest opinion is that she could have done a lot better,” she said. “But she did a hell of a performance today, but if she had all of the information she would’ve gotten life for him. There were people she interviewed that Crystal wasn’t around much. She was working her butt off in real estate. She was working around Jeff and us.

She was telling me things and confiding in me. Jeff was never interviewed. He was the one that (the daughter) told first about the black dress shaking and the ‘evil spirits’ got her. Why not talk to him? He was never called to the stand.”

Lieck said she felt like justice was served. 

“I understand where a couple members of the family may not be satisfied, but the difference between life and 50 is only five years.” Lieck said. “Eligibility does not mean entitled, so that doesn’t mean he will get it.”

Kirkwood said Steven McDowell has accepted the verdict as well as the sentence. 

“He asked for his day in court and after days of evidence before the jury, and they found him guilty after about three to four hours. He accepted that verdict,” Kirkwood said. “Basically, he was questioned during the sentencing phase, and he said he’d accept whatever they gave him and whatever they gave him would be fair.  I believe he accepts the 50 years as well.” 

More than once, Steven McDowell said he was remorseful on the stand during both the regular portion and the sentencing phase. Kirkwood said he has been remorseful since the day he met him.

“The jury saw in his confession that he was full of emotion and crying, saying he was sorry for it,” Kirkwood said. “People saw him in the courtroom, crying. Those are the same things I have seen while he discussed his case with me.”

Kirkwood added Steven McDowell’s state of mind was “stable.”

“He has an understanding of what happened,” he said. 

During the trial, Steven McDowell had claimed he “hugged” Crystal McDowell to death, and did not strangle her. 

“The jury saw the video, and you can see in his confession, he makes a hugging movement, not a chokehold movement,” Kirkwood said. “If I heard him correctly on the video, he says, ‘I hugged her’ and then the Texas Ranger comes back and says, ‘You choked her?’ and he is just shaking his head yes at that point because he is breaking down.”

Kirkwood said this is not a new theory.

“He has had this at least from the time he confessed to the Texas Rangers until the time he got with me throughout the trial,” Kirkwood said.

Lieck said despite the time it took to reach a final sentence, she was proud of everyone that worked on the case, including her team and Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne’s office. 

“They were performing water rescues at that time, and a couple of the deputies and investigators lost their homes but were still working every day,” she said. 

Lieck was especially thankful for the efforts of Assistant DA Ed Shettle, who has over 30 years of prosecutorial experience. 

“He is one of the best trial attorneys in the state, in my opinion,” Lieck said. “My office is lucky to have him.”

Lieck said with this prosecutorial victory coupled with her successful conviction of Juan Chavez, who assisted in the murders of teens Alex Chavez and Jarvis Morgan, her county is not a place where people can commit crimes and get away with them.

“The people that commit crimes like this should know we are dedicated to justice,” she said. “I truly think the citizens benefit.” 




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