CEDAR RAPIDS — A retired Williamsburg police officer testified Tuesday that Cody Stevenson admitted to punching his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter in the stomach and then demonstrated on a doll how he raised his clenched fist and struck the toddler, who was lying on her back in bed.
Robert Knoop, the former assistant police chief, said Stevenson was asked if Amanda Loffer, mother of 2-year-old Bella Loffer, had harmed her daughter, and he said no.
Stevenson, he said, initially denied knowing what had happened to the toddler on June 30, 2017, but later admitted he punched her in the abdomen about three times at his home in Williamsburg.
Knoop asked if he was angry at Bella, but Stevenson would only say he was angry “about life.”
The toddler died from injuries July 3, and Stevenson, 30, of Williamsburg, was charged with first-degree murder.
Testimony started Tuesday in Linn County District Court, where the trail was moved from Iowa County because of pretrial publicity. The trial is expected to go into next week.
The jury watched a video of Stevenson talking to police, when he demonstrated how he hit Bella. In the video, Stevenson said he was sitting on the bed in the upstairs master bedroom he shared with Loffer and Bella. Bella was lying on her back in front of him when he hit her.
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On cross-examination, Johnson County Chief Public Defender Peter Persaud, Stevenson’s lawyer, asked Knoop if Loffer and Stevenson were both suspects in the investigation.
Knoop said they were.
Persaud asked if investigators were initially trying to get Stevenson to implicate Loffer. Knoop said no, they were trying to find out what happened.
The defense, in its opening statement, claimed Stevenson didn't hit Bella but is covering up for Loffer, who was the one who punched Bella in the stomach.
Rachel Antonuccio, Stevenson’s other lawyer, said Stevenson never admitted to killing Bella. He admitted to punching her, and he admitted to that to protect Loffer.
Stevenson thought if he gave police information about what had happened then it could get Bella the medical care she needed, Antonuccio said.
Dr. Joel Schlansky, a pediatric surgeon with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, testified that Bella had a perforated intestine when she was brought into intensive care July 2, 2017.
Schlansky said hospital staffers were performing CPR on Bella when he arrived, but they couldn’t maintain the child’s blood pressure and had to use an ECMO machine to pump blood outside the body to allow the heart and lungs to rest.
Schlansky said they had to stabilize Bella before performing surgery to repair her intestine. When she was injured, a part of her intestine was torn away from the blood supply and the tissue died. About 6 inches of the intestine was removed.
Assistant Iowa Attorney General Doug Hammerand asked what would cause this injury.
Schlansky said a car accident or a "substantial" blow to the abdomen in a young child.
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Bella had to have a second surgery and about 4 additional inches of intestine removed, but she developed a neurological issue and died July 3, Schlansky said.
In other testimony, Bella’s older siblings testified about hearing Bella crying when she was with Stevenson in the bedroom, where the two of them stayed most of the day. Stevenson was Bella’s primary caretaker during the day while Loffer worked as a certified nursing assistant.
The siblings were not clear on details and had trouble remembering events. They each said on cross-examination they hadn’t mentioned those incidents or other details in depositions or conversations with an investigator.
But the three siblings said they were telling the truth and hadn’t been told what to say by the prosecutor or their parents.
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