Man accused of killing Hoisington toddler appears in court

GREAT BEND, Kan. A preliminary hearing Tuesday included testimony that will ultimately determine if there's enough evidence for a man accused in the March death of a 2-year-old girl in Barton County to stand trial.

Chaz Stephens is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter, Ivionna, "Ivy" Lewis. After his arrest in March, Stephens was also charged with child abuse, possession of methamphetamine and possession of paraphernalia.

Ivy's body was found in a black trash bag northwest of Hoisington about three days after she was last known to have been seen.

Among those testifying Tuesday were Ivy's mother, father and great-grandmother and Stephens' parents.

Annissia Houp, Ivy's mother, discussed her relationship with Stephens and the days leading up to her daughter's disappearance. She said her and Stephens were "going through a rough patch" and she wrote him a letter saying he needed to get things together or she'd break up with him. She said Stephens was gone much of the time and they often argued about him not taking care of her son.

Houp said Stephens locked her out of her Hoisington home and she ended up going to her brother's home in Great Bend. This reportedly happened on the Sunday in March Ivy was last seen.

Houp said she tried to contact Stephens several times and didn't hear back from him until (two days later) Tuesday. Lewis testified that Stephens went to pick her up and told her he hadn't seen Ivy since Sunday. They called Stephens' parents and called Hoisington Police Captain Josh Nickerson. They searched the house and areas nearby, Houp said.

Houp said Stephens told her the door to the home was unlocked or someone got in. She said "there's no way" Ivy would walk away from home. She admitted Ivy previously had a bruise on her face after spending time with Stephens but said he was never cruel and she never saw him hurt any of her children. She said Ivy would also have tantrums and sometimes would hit her head on the floor

Stephens' father said his son told him he thought Ivy was with Annissia prior to everyone realizing the toddler was missing. He said he's talked with Stephens every week during visits and on the phone since the arrest. He said Stephens told him he was nervous how people would look at him and doesn't want to be seen as a monster. Stephens' father testified his son told him there is more information out there and others were involved. Stephens' father said his son also once told him he felt bad and that he was sorry.

The medical examiner said Ivy died from blunt force trauma to the head and had "overwhelming injuries" to her face, scalp and thighs. The examiner said toxicology reports show the 2-year-old girl also had ibuprofen in her system and methamphetamine in her urine. The examiner said the methamphetamine is not the cause of Ivy's death and the trauma was not accidental.

Ivy's great-grandmother, Fannie Houp said "it just took (her) heart inside out," when she learned Ivy was missing.

"I prayed every day they would find her and I prayed every day Ivy would be just fine when they did find her and all these people that search for her and everything, I just can't thank them enough," she said.

Annissia Houp said her daughter's death and investigation have been stressful and depressing. "I just hope we get results," she said. "I'm relying on results."

Ivy's father, Devonte Lewis said he's "just waiting for justice for (his) little girl."

"Yeah, that's all I want is justice," he said. "When everything is right and she gets justice, I will be okay."

"She was a lovable little girl," Ivy's mother said. "She loved everyone."

Chaz Stephens was bound over for trial. An arraignment has been set for August 23 at 1 p.m. in Barton County District Court.