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SALT LAKE CITY — A man accused of murdering his 4-year-old stepson began a preliminary hearing Wednesday in a trial where he could potentially face the death penalty.
Nathan Sloop, 33, is accused of abusing, neglecting and murdering his stepson Ethan Stacy in 2010. Sloop and his wife at the time, Stephanie Sloop, 29, are accused of killing Ethan two weeks after arriving from Virginia to stay with them for the summer.
Sloop, dressed in a suit jacket and tie, took notes during the hearing to determine if there is evidence for a trial.
"He's usually kind of scruffy, scary looking," said Kathy Anderton, a supporter of Ethan. "Today, of course, he's trying to appear to be an upstanding, wonderful guy and I don't buy that."
Defense attorneys said during this three-day preliminary hearing the court will hear from health care providers who will testify that the Sloops expressed concerns about their ability to care for Ethan before he arrived in Utah to visit his mother.
The lead investigator took the stand Wednesday and said Sloop beat, burned and medicated his stepson.
He's usually kind of scruffy, scary looking. Today, of course, he's trying to appear to be an upstanding, wonderful guy and I don't buy that.
–Kathy Anderton, a supporter of Ethan Stacy
During a police interview played in court, Sloop said he and Stephanie put feces in Ethan's mouth after Ethan smeared it on the walls and spit on Sloop.
In the same interview, Sloop said he put Ethan in a scalding hot bath but didn't think the water was too hot. Sloop said he didn't take Ethan to the hospital for the burns because he didn't want to go to prison.
Nathan and Stephanie Sloop would lock Ethan in their apartment because they didn't want anyone to see his bruises from previous abuse, according to police reports.
"I'm beside myself," Anderton said. "I can't believe anybody could do that to a little boy."
Anderton has never met Ethan, but she's been following the case closely.
"He's the same age as my little grandson," Anderton said. "They have the same birthday."
The couple allegedly buried the body — wrapped in garbage bags and tape — near Powder Mountain in Weber County. Sloop attempted to disfigure Ethan's face using a hammer, reports state.
They have said some of the bruises and injuries on Ethan's body weren't evidence of torture, but normal activity of a 4-year old boy.
They have said Nathan and Stephanie Sloop were giving Ethan over the counter medications because he was sick. They say that medication dehydrated Ethan.
I think that a better punishment would be for him to sit in jail or prison and think about whether he does or not, I don't know, what he's doing the rest of his life. It's good to see justice starting to happen.
In court, prosecutors showed the video of the Sloop's courthouse wedding. As they said their vows, Ethan was home alone. He had been given Benadryl and locked in a bedroom.
Defense attorneys said Ethan Stacy died in his sleep from an overdose of over-the counter medication, like Benadryl and Children's Tylenol and not from severe abuse.
But the lead investigator on the case testified that there was no indication Ethan was sick or injured before he died.
Prosecutors showed the court pictures of a smiling Ethan, including one of him in his pajamas, with his arms around Sloop, his stepfather.
The court also heard the 911 call Stephanie made in April 2010 to report Ethan missing. It was soon after that Sloop confessed to the crime and showed investigators where Ethan's body was buried.
Prosecutors showed the court pictures of Ethan's gravesite. They also played a video of Ethan, saying he wasn't scared of Sloop anymore. The investigator on the stand noted that part of Ethan's face was red in that video. Ethan had swollen lips and cheeks in another photo of he and Sloop, that had been posted on the Sloop's Facebook page.
In a police interview, Sloop said the swelling was an allergic reaction.
The couple are facing capital murder charges in addition to charges of child abuse and obstructing justice, second-degree felonies, and abuse or desecration of a body, a third-degree felony.
Anderton says in this case, the death penalty would be the easy way out.
"I think that a better punishment would be for him to sit in jail or prison and think about whether he does or not, I don't know, what he's doing the rest of his life," Anderton said. "It's good to see justice starting to happen."
Defense attorneys have said Sloop has received mental health treatment in the past and was prescribed more than 4,000 pills.