Chaz Zachery Stephens entered pleas of “not guilty” Friday to the first-degree murder of 2-year-old Iviona Marae May Lewis, and to child abuse and drug charges.
Stephens appeared in Barton County District Court for arraignment with his attorney, Paul Oller. Barton County Attorney Amy Mellor joined Assistant Attorney General Lyndzie Carter, representing the state. As District Judge Scott McPherson read eight charges, Stephens said “not guilty” eight times.
He is charged with killing Lewis while in the commission of child abuse sometime around March 18-20 in Barton County. The Hoisington girl was reported missing on March 20 and was later found dead in rural Barton County.
The first-degree murder charge is an off-grid felony, which means if convicted Stephens could face a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
He is also charged child abuse, involving torture or physical cruelty; possession of methamphetamine; possession of drug paraphernalia; interference with law enforcement by reporting false information about her death or disappearance; interference with law enforcement by concealing, destroying or altering evidence; and two counts of endangering a child, referring to two other young children in the home, born in 2016 and 2018.
Now that Stephens has been arraigned, he is entitled to a speedy trial within 150 days, McPherson noted Friday.
“The clock starts ticking today,” he said. However, either the prosecution or the defense may request additional time for various reasons. “This is your right, to be brought to a trial in a speedy fashion.”
Carter noted that the deadline is now Jan. 29, 2019.
No date for a trial was set.
“My calendar is very full,” McPherson said, adding the attorneys need to determine how many days will be needed for a trial and then the judge’s secretary will notify them of the date.