Pathologist: 2-year-old Bella Loffer died from blunt force injury to abdomen

Cody Stevenson (left) looks on as Johnson County Chief Public Defender Peter Persaud looks at photographs of an apartmen
Cody Stevenson (left) looks on as Johnson County Chief Public Defender Peter Persaud looks at photographs of an apartment where Stevenson lived with his girlfriend and children during Stevenson’s first degree murder trial at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Stevenson is accused of punching his girlfriend’s child in the abdomen multiple times on June 30, 2017, according to the criminal complaint. The trial was moved from Iowa County due to pre-trial publicity. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A forensic pathologist shared details Wednesday about the autopsy of 2-year-old Izabella “Bella” Loffer, who a Williamsburg man is accused causing her blunt force injury by punching her in the abdomen.

Dr. Stephanie Stauffer, who works at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and also is a Johnson County deputy medical examiner, testified that she died from blunt force injury to her intestines, which were torn, and could have been caused by someone striking her in the abdomen. Bella’s injuries were not accidental and the cause of death was homicide, she said.

Cody Stevenson, 30, is on trial this week in Linn County District Court for first-degree murder. He is accused of punching his girlfriend’s daughter, Bella, in the abdomen about three times on June 30, 2017. She died from injuries on July 3, according to testimony.

The trial was moved from Iowa County because of pretrial publicity. The prosecution rested Wednesday, and the defense will start its case Thursday.

According to testimony Tuesday, Stevenson admitted to investigators that he punched Bella three times in the stomach.

The defense, however, claims Stevenson is innocent and he covering for Bella’s mother, Amanda Loffer. In opening statements, Stevenson’s attorney said Loffer punched her daughter. Stevenson only admitted to police that he punched Bella to protect Loffer, his attorney said.

Only a few photos from the autopsy were shown to the jury to explain Bella’s injuries.

The blunt force injury tore her intestines, which allowed bacteria to seep into her bloodstream, Stauffer said. Her organs failed and she developed sepsis — when the immune system fails to respond.

Stauffer also did a toxicology screening, which showed Bella had nicotine and anti-seizure medication in her system. If someone smoked in the home, it would show up in the toddler’s system, and the medication was given to her at the hospital during medical treatment, she said.

In other testimony, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Trent Vileta testified about Stevenson’s interview at the hospital before Bella died. The nearly three-hour audio recording of that interview was played for the jury but it was difficult to hear.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Doug Hammerand went through some of the interview in court with Vileta after playing the recording.

Vileta said Stevenson repeatedly denied knowing how Bella suffered the blunt force injury for most of the interview until investigators indicated they had more information. Near the end, Stevenson said he “punched her in the gut” about three times. Stevenson said he was sitting on the bed and Bella was lying on her back in the bed when he punched her.

Johnson County Chief Public Defender Peter Persaud, on cross examination, asked if Stevenson and Loffer had both been suspects. Vileta said that was true.

Persaud asked if Loffer had been charged.

“No, not yet,” Vileta said.

Persaud asked if he had a “goal” to charge her.

Vileta said that hasn’t been determined.

Persaud asked Vileta if he initially tried to get Stevenson to say Loffer hurt Bella.

Vileta said that was true but Stevenson said she didn’t.

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