Utah couple to be tried separately in boy's death

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FARMINGTON, Utah (AP) -- Prosecutors said they don't plan to force a couple to testify against each other in the beating death of a 4-year-old boy whose disfigured body was found buried in the northern Utah mountains.

The question came up Friday as a Utah judge set the first of two preliminary hearings for Nathanael and Stephanie Sloop, who will be tried separately for aggravated murder, desecration of a body, obstruction of justice and child abuse.

Ethan Stacy died in May after what prosecutors say was days of abuse at a Layton apartment. His body was mutilated in a crude effort to conceal his identity, and prosecutors have said they are likely to seek the death penalty for both defendants. The prosecutors will have 60 days to announce their intention after an arraignment, which in Utah follows a preliminary hearing.

Second District Judge Michael Allphin on Friday set Feb. 1 for the start of a three-day preliminary hearing for Nathanael Sloop. His wife's preliminary hearing is expected to follow weeks later. At the same time, the judge raised questions about spousal privilege, which normally keeps husbands and wives from having to testify against each other.

Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings told The Associated Press he doesn't plan to call Stephanie Sloop to testify against her husband at the Feb. 1 preliminary hearing. She could assert her 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refuse, he said.

One of the Sloops could be forced to testify after conviction and sentencing at the other's trial, Rawlings said. But the order of trials hasn't been fixed and Rawlings said he wasn't certain he needed one spouse's testimony against the other. A post-conviction appeal by one defendant could complicate any such effort, he added.

Rawlings said the judge's questions about spousal testimony caught him by surprise because he hadn't given much thought to trying to get one spouse to implicate the other.

"It never even came up," he said. "We don't know where that came from."

Rawlings disclosed for the first time Friday that the Sloops will get separate trials by agreement of prosecutors and defense lawyers. He said he knows which trial he wants to move first for "strategic reasons" but would discuss it.

The Sloops are being held without bail in the death of Ethan Stacy, a child from Stephanie's earlier marriage to Joe G. Stacy of Tazewell, Va.

The boy's body was recovered from a shallow grave in the Utah mountains May 11, 10 days after he arrived in Utah for a summer visit with his mother that was ordered by a Florida divorce judge.

Judge Maura T. Smith of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in Orlando, has told The Associated Press she signed off on Stephanie's visitation rights without reading allegations in divorce papers from the boy's father, who said the mother was unstable and had abandoned the boy.

As Ethan Stacy was being beaten or neglected, Utah authorities said, the Sloops barricaded the boy in his bedroom to get married.

Charging documents say the boy was beaten, burned, drugged and left malnourished and without any medical care. Authorities have not revealed how they believe he actually died.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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