DENVER (Reuters) – A father of four malnourished boys found living amid cat feces in a squalid Denver home and unable to speak except by grunts pleaded guilty on Thursday to felony child abuse, prosecutors said.
Wayne Sperling, 66, was arrested last year along with his common-law wife, Lorinda Bailey, after authorities discovered the boys, aged 2, 4, 5 and 6, living in a filthy apartment teeming with flies. Sperling pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse, second offense, said Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office.
Bailey, 36, pleaded guilty in August to one count of child abuse and was sentenced last week to 90 days in jail and five years of probation. Prosecutors had argued that Bailey deserved a maximum seven-year prison sentence because she and Sperling had previously lost custody of two other children over similar neglect charges.
Authorities were alerted to the boys’ plight when Bailey took the 2-year-old to an emergency room with a cut on his forehead, according to an affidavit filed by Denver police. The treating physician noted that the toddler was filthy, non-verbal, and reeked of cigarette smoke.
A social worker and a police officer then visited the couple’s apartment in east Denver and found Sperling at home with his three older sons, the affidavit said. The home was littered with cat feces and permeated by an “unbearable” stench, the affidavit said.
The responding officer said the three boys uttered “infant-like noises.” “Sperling stated the children have their own language and grunt at each other but were able to speak to him and Bailey,” the affidavit said. Sperling told police that he was unemployed and was the primary caregiver for his sons.
A pediatrician who later examined the children found all the boys were malnourished, had “very poor and delayed” verbal skills, had not been toilet trained, and lacked up-to-date immunization records, the affidavit said. The four boys are now living together in foster care.
Sperling, who was found competent after undergoing a mental evaluation, is set to be sentenced next month and faces up to seven years in prison.