Houston, TX – The man who claimed that his four-year-old stepdaughter was kidnapped by a trio of Mexican men over a week ago will likely face murder charges in her disappearance.
Jail records indicated that he is being held on $1 million bond for a charge of “tampering with evidence, namely a corpse,” KTRK reported.
According to court documents, there is a “substantial likelihood” that he will be charged for her murder, CNN reported.
Maleah is still missing.
Security footage showed Maleah going into her family’s apartment complex with Vence on the morning of April 30, which was the same day her mother left town to go to a funeral, according to KTRK.
The video was the last time the little girl was seen alive.
Security footage showed Vence leaving the complex with his one-year-old son on May 3. He was also carrying a laundry basket with a black trash bag stuffed inside.
The laundry basket was later recovered inside the trunk of the vehicle Vence said he was driving when Maleah was allegedly kidnapped.
He claimed the car was stolen during the attack, but police said security footage showed that he was dropped off by the same car at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital on May 5.
That’s when he first reported that he believed Maleah had been kidnapped.
Police recovered the vehicle on May 9 in the Missouri City area.
Cadaver dogs alerted to the scent of human decomposition inside the trunk, which also contained the laundry basket and a gas can, WJW reported.
According to court documents, investigators found blood in the hallway and smeared across several bathroom surfaces in Vence’s apartment, according to KTRK.
They also used a chemical spray, which revealed evidence of blood that had been cleaned up.
The blood in Vence’s apartment matched DNA from Maleah’s toothbrush, CNN reported.
Security footage never showed the little girl leaving the residence, police said.
Vence originally told police he and two of Bowen’s children were driving to the airport to pick her up at about 9 p.m. on May 3 when he heard a sound he believed was his tire popping, so he pulled over, Houston Police Sergeant Mark Holbrook said during a press conference shortly after the four-year-old was reported missing.
He claimed that as soon as he stopped the car, a blue pickup truck pulled up next to his vehicle.
Vence said two Hispanic males got out of the truck and started eyeing his stepdaughter, four-year-old Maleah, according to CNN.
Maleah "looks very nice, looks very sweet," one of the men told Vence, according to Sgt. Holbrook.
That’s when the stepfather said the other man cracked him over the head with something and he lost consciousness.
Sgt. Holbrook said Vence told police he woke up some hours later in the back of the men’s truck with Maleah and his one-year-old son Courtland.
He told police there were three men in the truck at that point.
The stepfather told police he’d gone in and out of consciousness before he eventually woke up with his son on the side of Highway 6 at about 6 p.m. the next day.
He told police Maleah was nowhere in sight when he awoke, the sergeant told reporters.
Vence initially said that he walked to a nearby hospital where he was treated for his injuries and reported Maleah missing.
But Vence’s account of what occurred changed several times during questioning, police said.
"During the initial interview, the man's story did change several times and some of what he told us just didn't add up," Sugar Land Police spokesperson Doug Adolph said on May 8, according to KTRK.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DPS) has also confirmed that Maleah and her brothers – ages one and five – were removed from the home in 2018 due to reports of physical abuse, after Maleah suffered a severe head injury, KTRK reported.
Maleah’s mother, Brittany Bowens, claimed that investigators determined her daughter’s injuries were caused by a fall.
The little girl underwent multiple brain surgeries in order to help the injury heal, Sgt. Holbrook said during a press conference on May 4, according to CNN.
In February, the court ordered that the children be returned to their home, and that DPS check in at the residence at least once per month.
“She’s needed a lot of care,” Sgt. Holbrook said of Maleah. “This week she was sick, too.”
Even after police announced that Vence was a person of interest in the little girl’s disappearance, Bowens initially stood behind Vence’s account of what transpired, KTRK reported.
“There’s not one thing in my soul that says that he would do that,” she said.
But on Friday, Bowens held a press conference with New Black Panther Party leader Quanell X, and said that she had broken up with Vence just before she left for the out-of-town funeral, KTRK reported.
"On the day that Brittany left to be with her sick father - her dying father - to be with family, there was a huge fight between her and him," Quanell told reporters. "He was hurt, he was angry, he was upset."
"She told him she was giving back his ring and that she was not going to marry him. I believe that caused him to snap in anger," he continued. "There is a reason to believe, based on what I know now, there's issues of him possibly molesting young Maleah."
Bowens never told police that her former fiancé was allegedly sexually abusing her four-year-old daughter, Quanell confirmed.
“Where is Maleah?” she yelled through tears at the scene where the allegedly stolen vehicle was recovered. “Where is my baby?”
Maleah’s biological father, Craig Davis, has been cooperating with police throughout the investigation.
"I'm not putting the blame on anybody," Craig told KTRK. "I just need the questions that aren't answered to be answered. There are so many unanswered questions.”
He said he wants Vence to tell him where his daughter is.
“It's not for the public to answer to them for me. It's not for the police to answer them for me. It's not for the news to answer them for me,” Craig said. “It's for Derion to answer for me."
Vence faces up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted of the tampering charge, CNN reported.
He is scheduled to appear in court on Monday.