DENVER (AP) – A Denver couple accused of starving their four young sons and keeping them in a filthy apartment strewn with cat feces, urine and flies made their first court appearance Tuesday and were advised of the felony child abuse charges against them.
The boys — 2, 4, 5 and 6 — have been placed in protective care and have undergone hospital exams that found they are malnourished, not toilet trained and can only communicate in grunts.
Lorinda Bailey, 35, who is free on bond, appeared in court dressed in a black pant suit. Her husband, 66-year-old Wayne Sperling, is in custody and sat with defendants in other cases behind a glass barrier. He was dressed in a yellow jail uniform.
Bailey and Sperling did not enter pleas. However, both have previously pleaded guilty to child abuse.
Police said officers had been called in April 2012 after children were seen hanging from a window at the couple’s apartment building. Officers reported there was food in the home and children appeared well-fed. The home was “messy and crowded,” according to a police report.
Police followed up after learning Bailey and Sperling had both pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse in 2009.
When officers interviewed Bailey last year, she told police that she had lost parental rights to three of her children in 2009 but had been able to get one back.
Sperling was cited then with a municipal charge for allowing the children to hang out the window.
The latest charges came after an investigation that began on Sept. 29, when Bailey took her youngest son to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital for a cut on his forehead that she said happened after a fall.
An emergency room doctor informed authorities that the child was unwashed and smelled like cigarette smoke, prompting a welfare check by a Denver Human Services case worker. Bruising behind the child’s right ear appeared consistent with pinching, the doctor said.
Denver police Officer N. Rocco-McKeel accompanied the case worker to the apartment and reported finding five cats and feces on the floor throughout the apartment and the “strong odor of a decomposing animal.” The officer noted that flies covered every surface in one room and that he couldn’t determine any age or developmental differences between the three oldest children.
The mother said she did not think the apartment was unsafe and denied the boys had any developmental delays. She said she had been living alone in a separate unit of the building for the past two months, but still saw the children every day except Saturday and Sunday, when she worked.
Sperling, meanwhile, told investigators he was unemployed and has been the boys’ primary guardian. He said he intended to begin home-schooling the 6-year-old.
The affidavit said there was 1-2 inches of cat feces under the bunk bed where the boys slept and the floor was soaked with cat urine.
A doctor with the Family Crisis Center told police it did not appear that the children regularly visited the doctor and the 5-year-old had no records whatsoever.
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