Donald Lee Bedford said he hid a small video camera in his girlfriend’s daughter’s bedroom because he wanted to listen in on her conversations out of a concern for her financial welfare. What he wound up recording, though, is 46 minutes of footage of the woman and her boyfriend in their underwear talking about music and watching TV.
The 55-year-old Carpinteria resident is now facing a felony charge of eavesdropping and a misdemeanor charge of unlawful electronic peeping. Bedford, who’s out on bail, appeared for a preliminary hearing this week before Judge Clifford Anderson, who ruled enough evidence exists for the case to move forward.
Detectives arrested Bedford back in July after his victim discovered the camera—cut into the spine of a Chicken Soup for the Soul book—and turned it over to authorities. The 30-year-old woman was living with her mother (Bedford’s now ex-girlfriend) and Bedford in an apartment at the time. Bedford, said prosecuting attorney Ali Neuffer, had been arrested twice in recent years for domestic violence, and was caught prowling in 2006. He was not charged in any of those cases.
Snippets of the footage, including Bedford’s cameo—his face flashes into the frame as he tinkers with the device—and the victim’s moment of discovery, were played for the court. While the audio portion of the 46-minute tape was broadcast in its entirety, the majority of the visual footage was seen only by the judge and attorneys due to nudity. As the woman and her boyfriend lie in bed watching TV and eating a late night snack, they talk about commercials, hip-hop, and Pearl Jam, though most of the chit-chat is muffled.
The hearing included testimony given by detectives from the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, who said the victim was “visibly upset” and “trembling slightly” when she came into the Carpinteria station with the camera and that she immediately suspected Bedford because he’s a computer engineer with the U.S. Forest Service who has a penchant for covert cameras as well as free rein over her home. The detectives explained that the woman had been watching a movie with her boyfriend when something about the film reminded her of a passage in a book she owned. As shown in the footage, she gets up to peruse the bookshelf, only to find a title she doesn’t recognize and pull it out. Noticing the half-inch by one-inch hole cut into the top part of the paperback’s spine, her face switches from concentration to confusion to horror, and she then rips into the book to find the camera, which isn’t much bigger than a AA battery.
“It’s like a camera or something. Did you put it there?” she’s heard asking on the tape. “I know nothing about it,” her boyfriend responds with a nervous laugh. “What is that thing?” she continues, becoming more panicked. “Break it or something! It’s beeping! Get it out of here!” The footage becomes rocky again as the boyfriend picks up the camera and fumbles to turn it off. “I’ve never seen this before in my life,” the woman says breathlessly right before the tape cuts out.
The hearing also revealed that the morning after the camera was discovered, Bedford admitted to his girlfriend of eight years—the victim’s mother and housemate—that he had indeed planted a recording device in her daughter’s bedroom, but only to listen to her conversations. He said he was concerned about her money situation, and that he only captured audio. The victim’s mother, though, said she thought this was a lie and that his scheme was for “sexual purposes.” Bedford reportedly asked his girlfriend to remind the victim of all the good things he’d done for the family and begged for forgiveness.
If Bedford is eventually sentenced, explained Neuffer, the District Attorney’s Office will request a “no contact” stipulation between Bedford and the victim. She also said that if he’s found guilty, they will request he be placed on probation as opposed to serving prison time. Bedford and his victim have reportedly not had contact since the incident, though Bedford and his ex-girlfriend speak on occasion. He allegedly received death threats after his arrest was made public and has since altered his appearance.
Bedford’s attorney, Bill Makler, argued that the felony eavesdropping charge should be dropped down to a misdemeanor because Bedford didn’t intend to specifically record conversations, but Anderson disagreed and went along with the DA’s recommendations. Bedford is expected to enter a plea during his arraignment on January 7.