DENVER – A Denver couple accused of keeping four malnourished young children in a filthy apartment pleaded guilty to neglecting three other children under strikingly similar conditions in 2006, court records show.
The parents, Wayne Sperling and Lorinda Bailey, appeared in court Tuesday on felony child-abuse charges. Authorities say their four boys, ages 2 to 6, lived in a rank-smelling apartment littered with cat feces, flies and urine. The boys could not speak and only grunted, authorities said.
Police found similar conditions at the couple's apartment in 2006, when they had three other children, records released Tuesday show.
All seven kids were placed with a child services agency. No other details were available on their current status or whereabouts.
Bailey, 35, is free on bond. She declined to comment after leaving court Tuesday.
Sperling, 66, is still in custody and appeared in court with his long white hair in a ponytail and wearing a long, flowing beard. His attorney made no public statement.
Neighbors said they repeatedly complained to authorities about the boys' care but nothing happened.
The state Department of Human Services is reviewing the handling of the case because it meets "egregious" criteria, agency spokeswoman Liz McDonough said.
McDonough said she could not comment on specifics of the review but said it would include case notes and whether procedures were followed.
Police said the children found in 2006 were dirty, wore unwashed clothing and had not been fed for several hours. The oldest, age 4 at the time, spoke few words and mostly grunted and pointed to communicate, the records show.
Passers-by called police in the 2006 case to say a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old were playing in the street. Officers said they found rotten food, trash and insects in the apartment.
Shortly after the officers responded, Sperling and Bailey arrived at the home with their third child, then 3 months old, the records show.
The parents pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child-abuse charges in that case and were ordered to serve probation and take parenting classes.
The three children in that case had different dates of birth than the four boys in the current case, the records show. The records identify Sperling and Bailey as the parents of all seven.
The latest charges came after an investigation that began 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 2-year-old was unwashed and smelled like cigarette smoke, prompting a welfare check by a Denver Human Services caseworker. Bruising behind the child's right ear appeared consistent with pinching, the doctor said.
Denver police officer N. Rocco-McKeel accompanied the caseworker to the apartment in a brick building near downtown, where they found the other three boys.
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 children at home. He saw a single mattress and a bunk bed set, but none had any sheets or pillows. He said he couldn't find the source of the decaying smell but believed it came from a room at the back of the apartment.
The children were placed in protective custody. Hospital exams showed they were malnourished and not toilet-trained. They also determined the boys were "nonverbal."
The mother said she thought the apartment was safe, and she denied that 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. Officials confirmed that she worked as a parking lot attendant at a nearby event hall.
Sperling told investigators he was unemployed and has been the boys' primary guardian. He said he mopped frequently but that it's hard to keep a house with four boys clean. He also said he intended to begin home-schooling the 6-year-old.
The affidavit said there was up to 2 inches of cat feces under the bunk bed where the boys slept, and the floor was soaked with cat urine.