CEDAR RAPIDS — Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of a Williamsburg man accused of hitting a 2-year-old child who died a few days later in July 2017.
Cody Stevenson, 31, is charged with first-degree murder.
The trial was moved from Iowa County to Linn County District Court because of extensive pretrial publicity and is expected to last two weeks.
Jury selection will continue Wednesday, Opening statements and testimony may be delayed until next week due to scheduling issues, according to Rachel Antonuccio of Iowa City, Stevenson’s lawyer.
Stevenson is accused of punching his girlfriend’s child in the abdomen multiple times on June 30, 2017, according to the criminal complaint. The toddler, Izabella “Bella” Loffer, died from injuries July 3, police said.
Stevenson confessed to police that he hit the child, but his attorneys asked a judge in previous hearings not to allow his confession as evidence during the trial because Stevenson didn’t understand his rights when making those statements.
An Iowa City psychologist testified during one hearing that Stevenson had a mental age of a 14-year-old and an IQ of 78, which is considered “borderline.” A person with an IQ of 70 or below is considered to have a mental disability, psychologist Frank Gersh said.
Gersh said Stevenson didn’t remember police reading him his Miranda rights and said his thought process was impaired because he hadn’t slept or taken his diabetes medication that day.
Gersh concluded Stevenson wouldn’t “likely be able” to understand Miranda warnings and the consequences of giving up his rights not to speak to police without a lawyer.
During that hearing, Iowa Assistant Attorney General Douglas Hammerand, on cross-examination, said Stevenson changed his story about hitting the child.
Stevenson initially claimed he was never mad enough to hurt Bella but later remembered punching her in the stomach about three times and admitting he was angry.
Gersh agreed Stevenson said those things based on the transcripts.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Christopher Bruns ruled last year that the police interview could come into evidence at trial.
Stevenson’s attorneys also asked the court not to allow testimony from Bella’s three siblings, arguing the children, now 10, 13 and 15, lacked the mental competency to understand the questions and tell the truth.
Bruns ruled that only one of Bella’s siblings could testify at trial but it would be limited to what the child personally observed.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Stevenson faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
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