Friday, May 14, 2010
Florida Judge Maura Smith Expresses Regret For Her Unwitting Role In The Death Of Four-Year-Old Ethan Stacy At The Hands Of Stepfather Nathanael Sloop
The abuse and murder of four-year-old Ethan Stacy by his stepfather Nathanael Sloop and the possible facilitation and cover-up by Nathaniel's wife Stephanie, who is also Ethan's birth mother, has provoked an eruption of outrage not only in Utah, but nationwide. On Facebook, the group "Justice for Ethan Stacy" is approaching 15,000 members. Once it was revealed that a Florida judge had ordered visitation rights for Stephanie Sloop, attention quite naturally was directed towards that judge. Among the more printable responses; "What was that judge thinking?"
To her credit, that judge is not hiding behind typical "confidentiality"; on May 13th, 2010, she stepped up to the plate and owned up to the decision, explaining her reasoning. Florida Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Maura T. Smith oversaw the divorce proceedings between Joe G. Stacy and Stephanie Sloop, the birth parents of Ethan. Judge Smith said she is sorry for the loss of four-year-old Ethan Stacy, but then explained that no arguments were made in court regarding the possibility that the young boy would be in danger while staying with his mother in Utah. "Sometimes both parties come to court to get their agreement approved and to get the divorce decree that incorporates the marital agreement," the judge said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "But there was no discussion about what was in the agreement other than some of the financial aspects, and usually these cases last less than ten minutes."
However, Joe Stacy had fears of allowing Stephanie Sloop to care for their son under any circumstances. In a petition for temporary custody of the child written in November 2009, he called Ethan's mother "unstable." He wrote, "The mother has abandoned the child and I'm afraid the mother will come and take him and I'll never see him again." To strengthen her case for visitation, Stephanie agreed during mediation that Joe would be the custodial parent, and that she would have visitation, getting Ethan for the summer, spring break, and every other major holiday. Joe said he was under the impression that he had to agree to the arrangement or the court would revoke his primary custody. Read the petition for temporary custody HERE.
But Judge Smith said that because the divorce was a "cut-and-dried" uncontested settlement, she did not read Joe Stacy's initial petition and simply approved the final divorce and custody agreement. Ethan's father appeared alone April 28th for the 10-minute hearing, one of hundreds of divorce cases the court handles a week. She did not say if she would have decided differently had she read Stacy's petition.
Nathanael Sloop's ex-wife Jennifer Freeman said that Sloop was violent and had multiple personalities. According to a protective order filed by Freeman, when "Ghost," one of Nathan Sloop's multiple personalities, took over, he flew into frightening rages and took offense at any perceived slight or criticism.
After the divorce was finalized, Ethan and Stephanie boarded a plane bound for Utah, where she had moved to after a brief stay in Las Vegas. They arrived on May 1st. Ethan himself didn't want to go, and Joe didn't want to send him, but he was afraid he would be hit with a contempt charge had he stopped Ethan from going to Utah. On May 4th, a cell phone time stamp reveals Stephanie took a picture of Ethan with swelling and bruising on his jaw. On May 5th, Nathanael beat Ethan again, leaving him with head wounds. On Thursday May 6th, the Sloops locked a badly-injured Ethan in his room while they went off to exchange vows in a courthouse wedding in Utah. The rest of the story is described in this Deseret News report; a rough timeline of events is listed in this KSL Channel 5 story.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings announced during a Friday news conference that he will seek to file aggravated murder charges against both Nathaniel and Stephanie Sloop. Other charges being considered are child abuse, a second-degree felony; obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony; and desecration of a dead body, a human corpse, a third-degree felony. Going for the death penalty is also a possibility. Rawlings praised the Layton Police Department for the "lightning speed" with which it brought a resolution to the case and its professionalism in dealing with Ethan's biological father. He also acknowledged the mass amount of phone calls and e-mails his office has received from concerned citizens. He said he had received 150 e-mails in his private e-mail account alone Thursday. At a court hearing Friday, both Sloops separately agreed to waive their right to be bailed out of jail until at least their next court appearance on May 28th. Watch KSL news video embedded below:
-- Read the probable cause statement for Nathanael Sloop HERE
-- Read the probable cause statement for Stephanie Sloop HERE
A fund to help pay for the funeral expenses of Ethan Stacy has been set up at a Virginia bank. Although online donations cannot be accepted, donations can be mailed to:
True Point Bank
P.O. Box 1010
Grundy, VA 24614
It should be directed to Gary Stacy-Joe Stacy Memorial Fund #4 Ethan Stacy. The account number is 0387940.