FARMINGTON — In police interviews read and played in court Thursday, Nathan Sloop repeatedly said the death of his 4-year-old stepson was "an accident."
"Accidental and intentional are two different things," Sloop said twice during a police interview. Defense attorney Richard Mauro read the statements from a transcript.
Thursday marked the second of a three-day hearing on the evidence against Sloop, 34, who is faces capital murder and other charges in the brutal 2010 death of Ethan Stacy.
Thursday's hearing was made up entirely of Mauro's cross-examination of Layton Police Sgt. Jeff Roderick and focused on calls Nathan and Stephanie Sloop made to a psychologist and homeopathic physician, medications prescribed to Nathan Sloop, medications administered to Ethan and Nathan Sloop's desire to take the blame for the boy's mother.
"Blame it all on me, I don't care," Nathan Sloop told police, according to a police interview transcript. "I don't want Steph to go to prison. … I'll make me out to be Jack the (expletive deleted) Ripper."
Roderick confirmed that the man told police he was worried about his wife getting beat up in prison.
Both Nathan and Stephanie Sloop are accused of killing the boy through what prosecutor David Cole said was "reckless indifference to human life." He said Ethan was scalded, beaten, overmedicated and not given the medical care that he needed.
Ethan arrived in Utah April 28, 2010, to visit his mother for the summer as part of her divorce agreement. The couple was married days later on May 6 and Nathan Sloop told police that they didn't take the boy to the wedding ceremony because they didn't want anyone else to notice the boy's injuries. Two days later, the boy was dead.
He admitted he should have taken the child to the emergency room, but was "afraid I was going to go to prison." Defense attorneys argued that Sloop and his wife were "constantly" talking with healthcare professionals about the boy during his 10 days in Utah.
Investigators believe the boy died May 8 and was buried that afternoon. Mauro said the couple thought the boy died in his sleep. They decided against calling 911 because of the fear of going to prison.
While prosecutors and police say Ethan died of "severe abuse," Mauro said the boy's death was not intentional and was caused dehydration through overmedication.
"If you look at the administration of the medications in this case, they thought that Ethan was sick and they believed that he was ill and they thought he had an allergy," the defense attorney said. "They were giving him over-the-counter children's medications that ultimately ended up harming him more than helping him."
Mauro also pointed to phone records police acquired showing as many as 10 calls to a psychologist who apparently met with Ethan once and also treated Nathan and Stephanie Sloop. In text messages to the man in Washington that were read in court, Stephanie Sloop said her son was acting younger than his age and referred to an incident in which he saw her being choked by her ex-husband and she feared he was having flashbacks.
The phone records also noted calls made to Dr. Corey Sondrup, an Ogden-based homeopathic physician, to report biting injuries to Nathan Sloop and burns that Ethan had suffered when Nathan Sloop pushed him into scalding water. The doctor apparently recommended honey for those burns, Roderick said.
Nathan Sloop also called Sondrup on May 7 to report that the child was limp when held.
"They were on the phone with three different medical professionals all the time. They were constantly on the phone talking to them, trying to explain to them the challenges they were having," Mauro said. "That was the whole time he was in their custody."
Mauro said the Sloops also consulted with Davis Family Physicians, where he said Nathan Sloop was given a number of prescriptions including Lortab, Valium and Percocet totaling as many as 650 pills in March 2010 and 4,146 pills over 11 months. Roderick said police didn't ask about the prescriptions, although they did give the prescribed doses to Sloop when he was in police custody.
The level of culpability between Stephanie and Nathan Sloop is also a factor in the case, Mauro argued, saying that police interviews showed Sloop was willing to take the fall for his wife.
While Sloop was heard during a police interview saying he pushed the boy into scalding water, defense attorneys pointed out that he also told police that bathing the child wasn't his responsibility. Mauro read a text message from Stephanie Sloop to a man in Washington that indicated she was present when Ethan was burned. She said in the message that she turned her back and the boy got burned, then said he had been "grumpy" since then and described him as a "time bomb."
Mauro also questioned whether Sloop actually recanted a statement asking for an attorney when he was read his Miranda rights, and wondered why police asked his client about certain causes of death, including suffocation. Roderick said one initial police theory came from Stephanie Sloop and others from detectives.
Text messages exchanged between Nathan and Stephanie Sloop that were read in court Wednesday referred to the couple's desire to "break" the boy and "break his ego." His body was found near Powder Mountain in Weber County in a grave sprinkled with dog food. Ethan had been burned over 17 percent of his body and his face had been disfigured with a hammer because "Stephanie was worried about his dental records," Nathan Sloop said.
The couple reported Ethan missing from their Layton apartment just before midnight on May 10. His body was found about 17 hours later.
In addition to capital murder, Sloop is also charged with obstructing justice and intentionally inflicting serious injury on a child, both second-degree felonies; and desecration of a dead body, a third-degree felony. A judge is expected to determine Friday whether he will stand trial for those charges.
Stephanie Sloop, 30, is facing identical charges. Her next court appearance is April 12.
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