NEW BOSTON, Texas—Five alleged victims, ranging in age from 14 to 24, testified Wednesday that a man on trial in Bowie County exploited their friendships with one another and their need for attention to sexually abuse them again and again.
Todd Peck, 51, is on trial this week in Bowie County for the alleged abuse of the youngest girl and faces 25 to 99 years or life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted. Charges concerning the alleged abuse of Peck's other accusers are pending in Harris County, Texas, where Peck lived for many years before moving to Bowie County.
Peck's youngest alleged victim, 14, testified Wednesday that she met Peck at a garage sale in Conroe, Texas, near Houston when she was 5 and her sister, also an alleged victim, was 9. Peck quickly endeared himself to the sisters and their mother, the alleged victims testified. It wasn't long before Peck was the older girl's guardian and she moved in with him in Conroe at a time when two other girls were staying with Peck as well.
The youngest victim testified under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp that she came to live with Peck when she was 9. Crisp showed the jury a photo of the girl sitting in a chair that Peck had posted on his Facebook page when she was 11. In the comments under the photo, someone asked Peck about the girl.
"I picked her up at a garage sale along with her almost 15-year-old sister. Best garage sale ever," Peck wrote, ending the comment with multiple exclamation points.
The youngest victim testified that Peck fabricated an acting career for her to keep her mother's concern at bay, which included posting Google images of airplanes and maps of Hollywood. The girl said, and Peck's Facebook page shows, that he claimed the girl had a role in a "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie. The girl said Peck would photograph her sitting in a waiting area of a local hospital and post on social media that she was awaiting her turn to audition for a part.
The older sister, now 18, testified that she was happy to go and live with Peck when she was 9 because her home environment was unstable and chaotic and Peck gave her attention she didn't get at home. But last year the older sister became concerned that Peck was doing to her younger sister what he'd done to her for years and reported Peck to the Bowie County Sheriff's Office.
The younger sister said she denied being sexually abused by Peck when interviewed at the Children's Advocacy Center in April 2017.
"I was scared," the girl testified. "Where am I going to go? I'm not going to have anything."
But in November 2017, the girl testified that anywhere would be better than remaining with Peck and confided in a school counselor.
All of the alleged victims testified that Peck used food, trips to the park and other rewards to keep them compliant with his appetite for sexual contact. If a girl declined to participate, she was left home alone, the alleged victims testified.
The oldest victim to testify Wednesday said she was 5 when she became close friends to another girl her age living nearby in Gilmer, Texas, in Upshur County. That girl, who could not travel for the trial, was living with Peck and Peck invited the friend often to stay over for long weekends. The alleged victim, now 23, said Peck began sexually abusing her the first time she spent the night with her friend, but she didn't realize until years later that his alleged conduct was wrong.
"For the first few hours it was normal, and then it quickly turned into him showing me where babies come from," the 23-year-old victim said.
The witness testified that Peck would encourage her and the friend who lived with Peck to perform sexual acts on each other. When asked where the abuse would occur, the alleged victim said, "At the house, in the car, in a store, walking, almost everywhere."
"We were just going down the road to pick something up, and he'd be like, 'Y'all should touch each other. Y'all should touch me while sitting in my lap while I drive," the witness testified.
The witness said Peck had a room in his apartment set up for "photo shoots," with a bin of bathing suits, lingerie and scarves, a tripod camera and a sheet hanging for a backdrop.
"If he wasn't taking photos, he was touching himself," the witness said.
The witness testified that after about a year, Peck and her friend moved to Houston and she stayed in Gilmer with her family. Years later, when she was 10, that alleged victim traveled to Houston to see her old friend. The trip was supposed to last three weeks but ended when she questioned Peck's sexual abuse of the girls living under his care.
She said the night she arrived, Peck put her, her friend and a third girl, now 24 and a witness, in the tub and discussed their changing bodies. The witness testified that she asked the other girls if they thought Peck's conduct was "weird."
"I said I didn't think this was love," the 23-year-old testified. "He found out and took me home. He said, 'I thought you were better than this.'"
A fourth alleged victim, now 24, testified she went to live with Peck when she was 11 in Houston. She said her family life was tumultuous and the prospect of living with Peck and the other young girls seemed ideal. Like the others, the now 24-year-old alleged victim testified Peck withdrew affection, food and other "rewards" if she declined to have sexual contact with him.
Several of the alleged victims testified that Peck would move them frequently and that they often stayed in hotels. They testified that Peck would "con" churches by telling them he was helping foster children to get money.
"Fake, all fake. Everything he says is a lie," the 24-year-old said under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards.
A 19-year-old woman testified that she went to live with Peck when she was 9. Her single mother worked in Houston and was often exhausted. She became acquainted with Peck through her close friendship with the older sister of the youngest alleged victim. The 19-year-old described sexual abuse occurring "more than a hundred times" during her two years with Peck.
"When I was 11, I said no. He flipped out," the 19-year-old said. "That was the last time I saw him."
The state rested its case late Wednesday afternoon. The jury was placed in an evening recess by 102nd District Judge Bobby Lockhart with instructions to return to court Thursday morning to hear an opening statement from Peck's lawyers, Deborah Moore and Clayton Haas of the Bowie County Public Defenders Office, and testimony from witnesses for the defense.
The case is expected to be in the hands of the jury sometime today.