- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah man has pleaded “guilty and mentally ill” to aggravated murder in the 2010 death of his 4-year-old stepson.

The plea Tuesday means Nathanael Sloop, 35, likely faces a lifetime behind bars, but he avoids the death penalty.

Authorities say the boy, Ethan Stacy, was beaten and malnourished by Sloop and by his wife and the boy’s mother, Stephanie Sloop, for days before his death in 2010. Nathanael Sloop is accused of using a hammer to disfigure the boy’s face and burying his body in the northern Utah mountains.

“That boy died on my watch, and I’m horribly sorry,” Nathanael Sloop told the judge Tuesday, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. “I want to apologize to all those who were affected by my reckless indifference to Ethan Stacy.”

During an evidentiary hearing last year, a medical examiner testified that Ethan died from a combination of too many over-the-counter medications, severe burns and pneumonia.

Sloop pleaded guilty to the charges before a packed courtroom in Farmington that included the boy’s biological father, Joe Stacy, who came from Virginia, the Standard-Examiner of Ogden reported.

Joe Stacy has said that he was forced to give up Ethan during summers as part of a divorce and custody battle. The boy died 10 days after his arrival in Utah.

Stephanie Sloop will face a separate trial and is accused of contributing to the boy’s death or failing to stop it.

A judge sentenced Nathanael Sloop to 25 years to life on the aggravated murder charge, and up to 15 years on an assault charge stemming from his attack on a jail guard.

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