Sloops charged with aggravated murder in death of Ethan Stacy

All indicators appear that prosecutors will seek death penalty

Published: Friday, May 28 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Nathan Sloop made a brief court appearance Friday, just hours after he was officially charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense.

Erin Hooley

FARMINGTON — Although prosecutors haven't officially filed an intent to seek the death penalty against the couple accused of killing 4-year-old Ethan Stacy, the writing is on the wall.

"That is the direction this case is headed," Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said in court Friday.

Ethan's stepfather and mother, Nathan and Stephanie Sloop, made brief court appearances Friday, just hours after they were officially charged with aggravated murder, a capital offense.

Attorneys for the newlywed Sloops said they would be seeking new lawyers for their clients from the list of attorneys who are certified in Utah to handle death penalty cases. A hearing was scheduled for June 4.

The Sloops appeared separately before 2nd District Judge John Morris. Both wore red jail jumpsuits. Nathan Sloop wore a beaded necklace. He looked around the crowded courtroom as soon as he entered, searching for his mother. As he was escorted out of the room, he looked toward her and mouthed the words, "I love you."

Stephanie Sloop entered with a blank gaze on her face and began crying shortly after reaching the podium to stand before the judge.

In addition to the capital murder charges, the Sloops were also each charged Friday with child abuse and obstructing justice, both second-degree felonies, and abuse or desecration of a body, a third-degree felony. Nathan Sloop, 31, received an additional charge of damaging a jail, a third-degree felony.

The couple is accused of killing Ethan, the son of Stephanie Sloop, 27, and burying his body near Powder Mountain in Weber County. Court documents list "severe abuse" as the cause of death.

Investigators say Ethan was abused between April 29 and May 8. Nathan Sloop "engaged in multiple acts inflicting serious injuries," the charges state.

Prosecutors say Ethan was subjected to "beatings, burning, drugging, isolating, malnourishing," and was left alone and unattended while suffering from his injuries. In addition, the Sloops refused "to seek vital life-sustaining medical attention" for Ethan, according to the charges.

After Ethan was killed, the Sloops took his body to a rural area in the mountains and buried him in a shallow grave. Police documents indicate the couple attempted to disfigure Ethan's body with a hammer to make it harder for police to identify him.

Stephanie Sloop at first told police her son had wandered off in the middle of the night. After several hours of searching and questioning, however, investigators say they started catching inconsistencies in the Sloops' stories, which eventually unraveled, and the couple were arrested.

Prosecutors still have plenty of time before they have to officially declare whether they plan to seek the death penalty against the Sloops. Utah law gives them 60 days to make a decision after an official arraignment, which follows a preliminary hearing and is typically well into the legal process.

Other possible penalties — if the couple is convicted — include life without the possibility of parole, or a sentence of 25 years to life.

In a prepared statement, Rawlings said the decision on whether to pursue the death penalty "will come only after we have received all relevant evidence and information; after we have carefully considered statutory, aggravating or mitigating circumstances; after further consultation with the Attorney General's Office (including the appellate division); after we have consulted with (the) Layton (Police Department); and particularly after we have had extensive discussions with Ethan's family."

Several protesters outside the Farmington courthouse Friday displayed signs expressing anger at the boy's death. Among the messages were: "An eye for eye," "Mr. and Mrs. Sloop, I have a hammer, too," and one with flames and a cartoon devil saying "Sloop — you're mine."

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