BOUNTIFUL -- Joe Stacy spent part of Tuesday walking in the area where his preschooler son's body was found almost four years ago.
"It was hard," said Joe Stacy as he held the hand of his wife, Becky Stacy, on Wednesday.
Local residents have placed a cross on the trail in Eden where 4-year-old Ethan Stacy's body was found on May 11, 2010.
Joe Stacy is a soft-spoken man of gentle manner, with grief still written on his face.
"I've seen all the pictures, but I knew I wanted to go up there and see where they found him at. Part of it was trying to get some closure, but I guess there never will," Joe Stacy said.
Joe Stacy said it really wasn't a sad place and he appreciated the cross on the trail placed in honor of his son.
Tears glisten in the Stacys' eyes as they talk of the small boy who wore glasses and who would have been 8 years old now.
"You never met such a loving boy at his age. He's always running up to you and hugging you, always telling you he loves you," Joe Stacy said.
"You never met a kinder boy," Becky Stacy said.
Joe Stacy smiled and laughed about a little trick Ethan used to do with his ears.
"I don't know how in the world he did it, but he would take the top part of his ear and tuck it inside the ear some way or another and it would actually stay there," Joe Stacy said.
The Stacys said Ethan's older brother has struggled since his death.
"Instead of going out and playing with friends his age, he'd always stay home and play with (Ethan). He really, really loved him," Joe Stacy said.
The last Christmas the Stacys spent with Ethan they gave him a Bumblebee Transformer. Ethan found the empty box inside the car before Christmas Day and "was very excited," Becky Stacy said.
"He would make you do it and undo it, do it and undo it," Becky Stacy said to Joe Stacy about Ethan's fascination with the robot turning into a car. "He couldn't (transform) himself."
The movie Cars was also a favorite of Ethan's. He would watch it over and over again, along with several cartoon shows, Becky Stacy said.
The Stacys asked to talk to the Standard-Examiner on Wednesday while having breakfast in a Bountiful restaurant with three women who are part of "Ethan's Army."
Anissa Martinez, Lucinda Martin and Tammy Russell met with the Stacys. They became friends on Facebook, along with more than 400 other people, who have followed the case since it started. They have sent emails and text messages and talked on the phone over the past four years. Wednesday was the first time they sat down and just talked. "We wouldn't have made it without them," Becky Stacy said about the local residents who attended the court hearings for the past four years.
"We couldn't get out here. We've come to love them like family."
"A lot of people have helped and I'll never forget it," Joe Stacy said.
Joe Stacy said he is also grateful to the Layton Police Department and the Davis County Attorney's Office for all the hours they have spent on the case.
The Stacys arrived in Utah from Virginia on Monday to attend the hearing of Nathanael Warren Sloop, 35, Tuesday afternoon. They returned home Wednesday afternoon.
Nathanael Sloop pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in connection with the death of Ethan. Ethan's disfigured body was found buried near Powder Mountain on May 11, 2010, after his mother, Stephanie Sloop, called Layton police to report him missing.
Nathanael Sloop was sentenced to serve 25 years to life at the Utah State Prison. He was also sentenced to serve one to 15 years for an aggravated assault guilty plea in connection with a fight he got into with deputy at the Davis County Jail in November. Both sentences are running consecutively.
Stephanie Sloop is charged with aggravated murder, second-degree felony child abuse, second-degree felony obstruction of justice and third-degree felony abuse or desecration of a body.
She brought Ethan to Utah on May 1, 2010, to spend the summer with her and Nathanael Sloop.
Joe Stacy said he had to send Ethan to Utah because it was part of the divorce agreement. His only fear in 2010 was that Stephanie Sloop would not return their son back to him at the end of the visitation. He also feared if he didn't allow Ethan to go with Stephanie Sloop, she would get custody.
The Stacys said whenever they called to talk to Ethan in May of 2010, they were told Ethan was asleep or outside playing. When they did get to talk to him, the Stacys said they could hear the Sloops in the background telling the small boy what to say.
They said they had no idea that Ethan was being abused. Charging documents state that between April 29 and May 8 in 2010, Ethan was abused by the Sloops. The abuse included "beatings, burning, drugging, isolating, malnourishing, leaving the child alone and unattended while suffering, and refusing to seek vital life-sustaining medical attention."
Officials said Ethan died on May 8, 2010. Stephanie Sloop called 911 on May 10, 2010, shortly before midnight to report her son was missing.
After hours of searching the area and then questioning the Sloops, Nathanael Sloop on May 11, 2010, took police to where the small boy's body was buried, according to the probable cause affidavit. The Sloops were arrested and booked in the Davis County Jail.
For the past four years, attorneys on both sides have waded through the legal system to either head to trial or agree to a resolution.
Joe Stacy said the plea and the sentence Nathanael Sloop received, "wasn't what we were looking for, but it was the most we could get in the situation because of the mental issues that arose after his attorney found after digging around in his past."
Joe Stacy said even the death penalty would not have been enough.
"I don't even think if we went to trial and he got the death penalty it still wouldn't be justice for what he did," Joe Stacy said. "He took my son. There's no way to get him back. There's no justice at all."
Tuesday's court hearing was the first time Joe Stacy had seen Nathanael Sloop since he was charged with the murder of Ethan.
The two had met previously before Ethan came to Utah. At that time Nathan Sloop came across as "polite and a level-headed man," Joe Stacy said.
Attending the court hearing was difficult for Joe Stacy.
"I didn't know how I would react," Joe Stacy said. "I guess no one would know how they would react to seeing the people who murdered your son."
Joe Stacy said he heard from prosecutors that Nathanael Sloop wanted to speak to him personally and apologize to him in court on Tuesday.
"I didn't want to hear anything he had to say," Joe Stacy said he told prosecutors.
Nathanael Sloop did manage to speak directly to Joe Stacy as he left the courtroom.
"He looked up and said 'Sorry Joe,' as he went out the door," Joe Stacy said.
"I was more so just angry yesterday, I couldn't really say anything," Joe Stacy said. "The entire time he was in the courtroom he was the only person I looked at."
"I looked at him on his way out and he never looked at me at all," Joe Stacy said. "He looked up and said what he said and then looked down again. He never really made eye contact with me at all."
The Stacys said they plan to return to Utah when Stephanie Sloop either goes to trial or enters a plea.
Joe Stacy said as far as he knows Stephanie Sloop does not have any mental health issues. He hopes that the legal system will deal her a punishment "as much as it can give."
Her next hearing is Tuesday.
Contact reporter Loretta Park at 801-625-4252 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @LorettaParkSE.