Public Safety

Williamsburg man wants court to keep out his confession of hitting toddler who later died

Defense expert says man didn't understand his rights not to talk to police

Cody Stevenson walks into the courtroom for a change of venue hearing and a case management conference at the Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo on Monday, Sep. 11, 2017. Stevenson is charged with first-degree murder. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Cody Stevenson walks into the courtroom for a change of venue hearing and a case management conference at the Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo on Monday, Sep. 11, 2017. Stevenson is charged with first-degree murder. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Williamsburg man wants a judge to toss out his confession of hitting his girlfriend’s 2-1/2 year-old daughter who later died from injuries last summer because he didn’t understand that he had the right not to talk to police.

Cody Stevenson, 30, charged with first-degree murder, is accused of hitting the child who was in his care multiple times in the abdominal area with a closed fist on June 30, according to a criminal complaint. The toddler died from injuries July 3.

Frank Gersh, an Iowa City psychologist, testified Wednesday that Cody Stevenson had a mental age of a 14-year-old, according to testing he conducted, and had an IQ of 78, which is considered “borderline.” Average IQ is 100 and 90-110 is considered normal range of intelligence. A person with an IQ of 70 and below is considered to have a mental disability, he said.

Gersh also said Stevenson said he didn’t remember being given Miranda rights by police before they interrogated him. He said Stevenson’s thought process was impaired because he had sleep deprivation, hadn’t taken his diabetes medicine that day or eaten in the last 24 hours, except for a bag of chips and a soda.

Stevenson told Gersh he didn’t know that he didn’t have to answer the investigators’ questions. He understood what some of the words meant in the Miranda warning but didn’t understand the consequences.

Gersh concluded Stevenson wouldn’t “likely be able” to understand Miranda warnings and consequences of giving up his rights not to speak to police without an attorney.

He also pointed out Stevenson was introverted, passive, anxious and had depression at that the time of the incident. Stevenson also had characteristics of having a dependent personality disorder — meaning he can’t make decisions and is fearful of losing support and being criticized.

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Iowa Assistant Attorney General Douglas Hammerand, on cross examination, asked didn’t Stevenson say he didn’t remember having Miranda rights read to him in the past and changing his story of hitting the child?

Gersh said, based on the depositions and transcripts, he did.

A police officer testified at the previous hearing that he read rights to Stevenson in a prior arrest.

Hammerand said Stevenson also initially claimed he had never been mad enough to hurt 2-1/2 year-old Bella Loffer but later said he remembered punching her in the stomach about three times. Stevenson also said he was angry when he punched the child upstairs in the bedroom while she was lying on the bed, Hammerand noted.

Hammerand said Stevenson also remembered other details including that her stomach was hurting and he noticed a bulge on her abdomen.

Gersh agreed Stevenson said those things based on the transcripts.

6th Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns individually questioned Bella’s three siblings, who will testify for the prosecution at trial, about whether they understood what it is to tell the truth and was it difficult to remember what happened that day last year.

The defense is challenging if these young children have the mental competency to understand the questions and tell the truth.

The siblings, 10, 13 and 15 told the judge they had some memories but admitted their memories might be “so-so or iffy.” The two oldest said they had read their St. Luke’s Child Protection Center interviews and that helped trigger some memories. The siblings promised to be truthful and said if they didn’t know or remember something, they would admit it.

Judge Bruns said he would also look carefully at the rules of evidence regarding whether to admit a statement made by the 2-1/2 year-old to other siblings, including “Daddy hurt me” and “Cody hurt me while we were alone.”

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Hammerand told the judge Stevenson wasn’t Bella’s father but Bella’s mother, Amanda Loffer, said her daughter referred to Stevenson as “daddy.”

Bruns didn’t rule on these issues Wednesday. He will make a written ruling later.

The trial, moved from Iowa to Linn County based on pretrial publicity, is set for July 14. If convicted, Stevenson faces life in prison without parole.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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