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History of abuse emerges in Ethan Stacy case

Former spouses call Sloops unstable, feared for children

Published: Thursday, Aug. 27 2015 1:33 p.m. MDT

Jose and Angel Arellano read cards at a memorial set up for Ethan Stacy at Layton Meadows apartments. The boy's mother and stepfather are under investigation in the death.    (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Jose and Angel Arellano read cards at a memorial set up for Ethan Stacy at Layton Meadows apartments. The boy's mother and stepfather are under investigation in the death. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

LAYTON — Divorce documents and protective orders from the newlywed Layton couple accused in the death of 4-year-old Ethan Stacy show a disturbing history of abuse and fear.

Both of the former spouses of Nathan and Stephanie Sloop were also fearful for the safety of their children because of the unstable behavior of their exes.

The biological father of Ethan Stacy described his ex-wife, Stephanie Sloop, as "unstable" and said he feared she would take their son and he'd never see him again.

The former wife of Nathan Sloop described him as mentally unstable, violent and having multiple personalities — including one personality who becomes extremely angry when criticized. She said she feared for her life and for her daughter's life.

Nathan Sloop (Davis County Jail) Nathan Sloop (Davis County Jail)

The documents include transcripts of profanity-laced tirades that Nathan Sloop — who prosecutors plan to charge today with the murder of his stepson — left in a series of voice mail messages for his former wife, Jennifer Freeman, one day in September.

"I only wish now that I could (expletive) take you out of (their daughter's) life. I am going to do every (expletive) thing possible within my power to take you the (expletive) out of her life (expletive). I don't give a (expletive) if I gotta spend the rest of my (expletive) life in prison. (Expletive) you. I'm coming after your (expletive) throat," he said in one voice mail message.

In another, Nathan Sloop threatened to kill Freeman's boyfriend, "Mike," and then added, "You'll be next in line," according to the transcripts.

Stephanie Sloop (Davis County Jail) Stephanie Sloop (Davis County Jail)

Nathan Sloop left five voice mail messages in less than 20 minutes and six within 90 minutes, according to the court documents.

"He hugs my (expletive) daughter, he comes near my (expletive) daughter, he is (expletive) done. Over," one message said.

Nathan Sloop and Freeman had one daughter together. She turns 6 later this month. The daughter, who was born in Utah when the couple lived in Roy, now lives in Florida, where Freeman moved after her divorce.

In November, Freeman asked the court to ban Nathan Sloop from having any electronic contact with her.

"I am deathly afraid (Nathan Sloop) will harm me or my family," Freeman wrote in court documents.

Mike Williams adds a toy truck to pile of toys and gifts at a memorial for Ethan Stacy at an apartment complex in Layton Thursday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Mike Williams adds a toy truck to pile of toys and gifts at a memorial for Ethan Stacy at an apartment complex in Layton Thursday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

As recently as March, Freeman sought to have a permanent restraining order against him. The couple's divorce was finalized in August 2008.

"The wife has been the victim of domestic violence," her attorneys wrote in court documents. "The husband has a felony criminal history for drug-related criminal activity and has for years been diagnosed and treated for multiple personality disorders."

In court documents, Freeman describes Nathan Sloop as having a "history of instability and mental illness," including being diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. His other personalities go by the names "Ghost" and "New York," she wrote. "Ghost," she wrote, "becomes enraged at any perceived slight or criticism."

Freeman feared Sloop would hurt their daughter as a way to get back at her.

Ethan Stacy () Ethan Stacy ()

Similarly, Joe Stacy feared his ex-wife Stephanie Sloop would use their son Ethan to get back at him.

Joe Stacy filed for divorce from Stephanie Stacy, as she was then known, in October, according to records from the Florida court. Both were required to undergo parenting classes, which is required under Florida law for divorcing parents with minor children. The Uniform Child Custody Act was also invoked, which deals with children of divorced parents who live in different states.

In November, Joe Stacy filed an emergency motion for custody.

"The mother is unstable, and I'm afraid she will come to Florida and take him," he wrote in his motion.

Joe Stacy was particularly concerned about sending Ethan to Utah with the boy's mother for the summer, as the terms of his divorce required. He spelled out his concerns in court documents filed six months before Ethan left for Utah.

Mike Williams leaves a large stuffed animal during a candlelight vigil Wednesday for 4-year-old Ethan Stacy, whose body was found Tuesday near the Powder Mountain ski resort. The vigil was at the apartment complex where his mother had recently moved. (Michael Brandy, Deseret News) Mike Williams leaves a large stuffed animal during a candlelight vigil Wednesday for 4-year-old Ethan Stacy, whose body was found Tuesday near the Powder Mountain ski resort. The vigil was at the apartment complex where his mother had recently moved. (Michael Brandy, Deseret News)

"The mother has abandoned the child, and I'm afraid the mother will come and take him and I'll never see him again," Joe Stacy, who then lived in Apopka, Fla., wrote in the November 2009 custody petition filed in the Circuit Court of the 9th Judicial Court of Orange County, Fla.

Judge Maura T. Smith handled the Stacys' divorce. She told the Deseret News Thursday, however, that the couple had already reached a marital agreement settlement on their own, which was signed in front of a mediator, by the time the divorce was finalized in her courtroom.

The divorce was uncontested by both parties, she said. During a brief 10-minute hearing to finalize the divorce, she said only Joe Stacy was present.

Because the case was still active, meaning the court has jurisdiction over the divorce to make sure all stipulations were being met, the judge said she could not talk about specific details regarding the case. She said she heard the news about Ethan's death but could not comment on the matter.

She noted that the Orange County courthouse sees hundreds of cases similar to the Stacys' divorce every few days.

In their marital settlement agreement, the court prohibited Ethan's maternal grandmother and her husband from having any contacting with Ethan, Stephanie or Joe Stacy, but the documents did not indicate why.

The agreement was signed Feb. 3, 2010.

Despite the repeated warnings, Ethan was sent to Utah and was killed less than two weeks later, and his body buried in a remote area near Powder Mountain.

Police say that while interviewing Stephanie Sloop — who initially called police Monday to say Ethan had wandered away from home and was missing — they noticed photos of Ethan on her cell phone that "showed a progression of injuries." In a photo with a time stamp of May 4, "Ethan has a large and very noticeable area of swelling to the jaw and face," detectives wrote in a probable cause affidavit when jailing the couple.

In subsequent interviews, the couple told police the injuries were caused by Nathan Sloop "in a systematic and progressively more violent pattern of abuse toward Ethan."

Police say the boy continued to be abused, yet the Sloops did not seek medical attention despite serious signs of illness. Ethan was discovered dead in his bed on May 9, the affidavit states, and the Sloops say they put his body in a plastic bin and buried him.

Nathan Sloop was booked Tuesday into the Davis County Jail for investigation of aggravated murder. He and Stephanie Sloop were both booked for investigation of child abuse, obstruction of justice and desecration of a corpse.

The Sloops' alleged crime has shocked the nation.

At the Sloops' Layton apartment Thursday, the sunny spring day did little to lighten the mood.

A steady stream of friends, neighbors and strangers continued to visit the site Thursday as a small makeshift memorial to Ethan continued to grow.

The pile of gifts included stuffed animals, flowers, candles, balloons and even a Happy Meal signed by the "Layton McDonalds staff."

Many messages bore the telltale signatures and pictures of neighborhood children.

"I'm sorry your (sic) gone," read one message, scrawled in a child's handwriting.

Other letters and cards offered messages of hope.

"God is watching and waiting. … You'll know you're in a much better place," read another letter addressed to Ethan.

A Facebook page called "In Remembrance of Ethan Stacy" had more than 6,000 fans just two days after its creation on Tuesday. Two other Facebook pages, "In Memory of Ethan Stacy" and "Justice for Ethan Stacy," have also been created.

As prosecutors prepared Thursday for a Friday news conference, at which time official charges were expected to be announced, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said his office had received numerous calls from members of the public.

His staff was sorting through an extensive amount of evidence, and he promised, "We will seek the maximum penalty allowed by law for the crimes we can prove."

The Sloops are expected to make an initial appearance in 2nd District Court at 1 p.m. Friday.

In other court documents obtained by the Deseret News Thursday, Joe Stacy filed for a protective order in 2007 against another spouse, Michelle Rodriguez, whom he also feared would take his children and flee to London while he was away on military duty.

Joe Stacy claimed in court documents that Rodriguez pulled a knife on him, slapped their kids, left them alone in a room while she went to a bar and then brought men back to the apartment to have sexual relations while the children were still there.

Contributing: Josh Smith

e-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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