SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The father of a 4-year-old child killed in Utah wrote in divorce papers that the boy's mother was unstable and had abandoned the youngster, though the judge said she never read that.
Police dug up Ethan Stacy's badly beaten and disfigured body from a Utah canyon Tuesday, nearly two weeks after a Florida judge finalized a divorce that required the father to share custody.
Ethan's mother, Stephanie Sloop, has been jailed along with her new husband, both implicated in the boy's slaying 10 days after he arrived in Utah.
Divorce papers obtained by The Associated Press show that Joe G. Stacy, of Tazewell, Va., was worried about his son.
“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 custody petition filed in the Orlando Circuit Court. “The mother is unstable.”
But in the divorce settlement, Joe Stacy finally agreed to share custody of the boy. Ethan was to spend the school year with his father and summers with his mother.
The agreement was approved by Judge Maura T. Smith of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in Orlando, who said Thursday that the divorce was a “cut-and-dried” uncontested settlement.
Smith said she had not read Joe Stacy's initial petition and simply approved the final divorce and custody agreement.
“He should absolutely not blame himself at all,” Smith told The Associated Press. “No parent should ever blame themselves for the unpredictable failures of another parent.”
Joe Stacy appeared alone April 28 for the 10-minute hearing, one of hundreds of divorce cases the court handles a week, Smith said.
The couple divided their personal property, and she gave up claims to a Florida house that fell into foreclosure in December, according to court files.
Joe Stacy was an oil-rig worker who expected a sum of money from a 2008 accident. He offered to share the settlement with Sloop, who insisted on full custody of the boy if the father didn't collect the money, but the judge ruled that condition was unenforceable.
Sloop didn't wait long to get remarried. She and Nathanael Sloop exchanged vows in a courthouse wedding in Utah eight days after her divorce.
The Sloops locked a badly beaten Ethan in his bedroom while they drove 10 miles away for the ceremony, police said.
Nathanael Sloop acknowledged beating the boy for days before his death, and Stephanie Sloop did nothing to stop the abuse, according to police interview statements used to hold the couple in jail.
Detectives wrote that Nathanael Sloop used a hammer to disfigure the dead boy's face and teeth before burial in order to make it harder for anyone to identify the body.
Nathanael Sloop was arrested on suspicion of aggravated murder. He and the mother face additional charges of desecration of a corpse, along with felony child abuse and obstruction of justice, police said.
The Sloops’first court appearance is scheduled for Friday and security will be tight, said deputy Davis County attorney David Cole.
Stephanie Sloop initially told officers that Ethan wandered away from their apartment complex in Layton late Monday. But that was just a ruse aimed at covering the couple's tracks, Lt. Garret Atkin said.
Attorney Richard Gallegos, who has represented Nathanael Sloop in previous criminal cases, has not returned messages seeking comment. It was unknown if Stephanie Sloop had an attorney.
Utah State Courts records show that between 2000 and 2003, Nathanael Sloop had several convictions, including for criminal mischief, disorderly conduct and drug possession. No criminal history was found for Stephanie Sloop.