Prosecutors working on the Ethan Stacy case have indicated they’re considering using for the first time Utah’s “Shelby’s Law.” The 2007 law enables prosecutors to seek the death penalty in cases involving child abuse that leads to the death of the victim.
What is “Shelby’s Law”?
After the 2006 murder of Shelby Andrews, Utah lawmakers enacted a law broadening the definition of capital crimes. Prosecutors can now seek the death penalty for people charged with murder and crimes such as child rape, child abuse or child kidnapping.
Prosecutors in those cases must prove to the court that the crimes were committed with “reckless indifference to human life” and that the perpetrator was a major participant in crimes that resulted in the death of the child.
Ethan Stacy Case
Though prosecutors haven’t formally declared their intention to seek the death penalty using provisions of “Shelby’s Law,” in the case of 4-year-old Ethan Stacy, it appears to be a distinct possibility.
On May 11, Ethan Stacy’s disfigured body was found in a shallow grave near the Powder Mountain Ski Resort. Court documents state that the cause of death was “severe abuse.”
His mother and stepfather, Stephanie and Nathanael Sloop are both charged with aggravated murder in the case. They are being held without bail. The pair will return to court on July 14 to get a schedule of hearings in the case.
Application of “Shelby’s Law”
Stephanie, 27, and Nathanael, 31, are, in addition to aggravated murder, charged with child abuse, obstruction of justice, and abuse or desecration of a body – all felony crimes.
In court documents, prosecutors allege that “the criminal acts included beatings, burning, drugging, isolating, malnourishing, leaving the child alone and unattended while suffering, and refusing to seek vital life-sustaining medical attention. After causing the child’s death, the defendant, as a party, desecrated and buried the child’s body.”
If the abuse and aggravated murder charges are both proven, the defendants could face the death penalty under “Shelby’s Law.” Prosecutors had 60 days from the time of the filing of the charges to declare their intention to seek the death sentence for either or both of the defendants.