Chaz Stephens of Hoisington will face charges of first-degree murder and child abuse in the death Tuesday of a 2-year-old Hoisington girl. He made his first appearance in an emotionally charged Barton County District Court Friday afternoon.
He is charged in the death Iviona Lewis, the toddler reported missing Tuesday afternoon who was later found dead in rural Barton County. The 25-year-old Stephens, who was an acquaintance of the child, was arrested early Wednesday morning and booked into the Barton County Jail.
During Friday’s proceeding, 20th Judicial District Judge Scott McPherson ran through the four-count complaint against Stephens. On top of the murder and child abuse, he faces charges of possessing methamphetamine, and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia with the intent to use.
“Do you understand all the charges?” McPherson asked Stephens.
“You made it all very clear, sir,” he responded.
A preliminary hearing was set for 9 a.m. Thursday, April 5. However, due to the complexity of the case and the need to secure a court-appointed attorney for Stephens, this hearing probably be used to set a later date to allow both sides time to prepare, McPherson said.
Stephens remains in custody in Barton County on a $1 million bond. McPherson advised Stephens that should be released on bond, there would be strict guidelines, including the use of an electronic monitoring bracelet.
Here are the charges against Stephens:
• The murder charge is an off-grid person felony, McPherson said. It carries a maximum sentence of life in a state prison with parole possible in 25 years and a possible $500,000 fine.
In this case, since Stephens has requested court-appointed representation, this must be done through the Kansas State Board of Indigent Defense Services in Topeka.
• The child abuse count is a level 5 person felony. Sentences can run from 31 to 136 months with a possible $300,000 fine.
• Meth possession is a level 5 drug felony. It can bring 10 to 42 months in prison and a $100,000 fine.
• The possession with intent to use is a class B misdemeanor. It could draw six months in the Barton County Jail.
However, McPherson told Stephens that the court could rule that all the sentences on all the charges could run consecutively.
Shackled, and clad in an orange-and-white-striped jumpsuit and bullet-proof vest, Stephens was escorted into the courthouse under armed guard. After being driven across the street, he was met by members of the media.
There was an increased presence of Great Bend Police Department patrol cars circling the area, and some parked to monitor traffic. There were also several armed officers in the courthouse lobby as Stephens was taken to the elevator to the third-floor courtroom.
In addition to the Barton County Sheriff’s Office and Great Bend Police Department, officers from the Hoisington Police Department and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation were present.
Inside the courthouse’s main courtroom, there were family members of both Stephens and the Lewis girl.
The child’s relatives harassed Stephans as he entered, receiving a stern rebuke from Sheriff Brian Bellendir.
This caught the attention of Judge McPherson.
“I realize this is a very emotional hearing,” the judge said. “But, I expect everyone to be on their best behavior.”
He said he would have “zero tolerance” for outbursts and would have no qualms about clearing the courtroom.
They remained respectful, but sobbing could be heard from the child’s family.
The Hoisington Police Department requested the KIB issue an endangered person advisory for the missing Lewis, but it was canceled after she was located. Agents and local law enforcement worked through the night Tuesday before making the arrest.
It was at about 3:50 p.m. Tuesday that Hoisington police received a report of a missing child who had been missing from Hoisington since Sunday. An alert from the HPD went out on the city’s NIXLE network requesting help from the community, involving mass text and email messages being sent to those who have signed up for the service.
Officers canvassed the city, going door-to-door with pictures of Lewis. Flyers were also distributed at local businesses.
Posts were made on social media, and the story was reported in the newspaper, and on radio and television.
Law enforcement agencies that assisted with the investigation included: The Hoisington Police Department, the Barton County Sheriff’s Office, the Kansas Highway Patrol, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, the Hoisington Fire Department, and the Hoisington EMS.