BY MELINDA WILLIAMS
Clipper Staff Writer
FARMINGTON — Little Ethan Stacey died as the result of a combination of drug toxicity, burns and aspiration pneumonia, a state medical examiner said on Friday.
Deputy chief medical examiner Edward Leis testified on Friday that he certified Ethan’s death a homicide after receiving toxicology reports. Prior to receiving those reports, he had ruled the death “suspicious.”
Friday was to have been the last day of Nathanael Sloop’s preliminary hearing, but 2nd District Judge Glen Dawson scheduled the morning of April 19 to hear testimony from a burn expert.
Following that, Dawson will decide if there is enough evidence to bind Sloop, Ethan’s stepfather, over for trial in the 4-year-old’s death in 2010.
Ethan’s body was found near Powder Mountain on May 11, 2010, after Sloop led investigators to it.
Leis found second- and third-degree burns on the child’s body, lacerations to the head and bruises on his head and legs, but those injuries alone likely wouldn’t have caused the boy’s death, he said.
However, they could have contributed to dehydration, concentrating the effects of drugs found in his body, Leis said.
The drugs included such over-the-counter remedies as children’s Tylenol and Benedryl. Testimony presented earlier in the week indicated Nathanael and Stephanie Sloop, Ethan’s mother, treated the boy with the medications for what they believed were allergies.
In addition to the over-the-counter drugs, there was evidence of Alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax, used to treat panic attacks and anxiety disorders in adults.
David Andrenyak, assistant director of the lab at the Center for Toxicology at the University of Utah, testified that the amount of Xanax found in Ethan’s body was comparable to a normal adult dosage.
On cross examination, he told defense attorney Scott Williams that lack of research done on the effects of such drugs on children meant he could not say if the amount of the drug found in Ethan’s system was a high level.
“I don’t think I could feel that is a safe amount for a child,” Andrenyak said. “There’s just not a lot of information about it to make that conclusion.”
Xanax was among a number of drugs prescribed to Nathanael in the months prior to Ethan’s arrival. In addition to psychoactive drugs such as Xanax, Ethan had prescriptions for painkillers, such as Lortab, which he told police he took for back pain.
The couple had consulted a Salt Lake area psychologist about problem behavior they told police Ethan was exhibiting, including leaving the apartment at night, and, at one point, biting Nathanael Sloop.
In a phone conversation played for the court, Nathan is heard to tell his mother he believed Ethan’s biological father Joe Stacy had taught the child to misbehave to hurt Stephanie.
He also said Stephanie told him to do whatever it takes to teach Ethan “to be a man.” She wanted him to get her boy back.
Testimony showed that the Sloops never took Ethan to a doctor for his allergies or burns, but Nathanael’s defense team brought out evidence they had consulted a chiropractor about burns found on the soles of Ethan’s feet and his legs and were told to cover the burns with honey and give him oil of oregano.
Those burns, Leis testified, were indicative of being put in a tub of scalding water and held there in a crouching position.
Stephanie Sloop had told police Ethan had burned himself by turning on the hot water while already in the bathtub, but Leis said that was unlikely.
Aspiration pneumonia is the result of choking and inhaling stomach contents into the lungs, Leis said. He told the court that had likely happened with 24 hours of the boy’s death, and it potentially could have been as long as three days prior.
To a question by defense lawyers, Leis said, “It is unlikely he had pneumonia when he arrived.”