By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A father of four malnourished boys found living amid squalor inside a Denver home and unable to speak except by grunts was sentenced on Tuesday to five years in prison, prosecutors said.
Wayne Sperling, 67, was arrested last year along with his common-law wife, Lorinda Bailey, after police found the couple’s sons, aged 2, 4, 5, and 6, living in an apartment littered with cat feces and teeming with flies.
Sperling pleaded guilty last month to one count of felony child abuse, and was sentenced to prison time on Tuesday, said Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney’s Office.
Sperling and Bailey were initially charged with multiple counts of child abuse, but prosecutors dropped all but one charge in exchange for guilty pleas from the couple.
Bailey, 36, pleaded guilty in August, and was sentenced last month to 90 days in jail and five years of probation.
The boys’ plight was uncovered when Bailey took the youngest child to an emergency room for treatment of a head laceration, according to an arrest warrant affidavit filed by Denver police.
The treating physician noted the boy was filthy and “non-verbal” and reeked of cigarette smoke.
A social worker and a police officer then did a welfare check of the pair’s east Denver apartment after learning there were other children living in the household.
Authorities said the stench inside the apartment was overwhelming, and that the three older boys communicated by making “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.
A pediatrician who later examined the boys said all four had delayed verbal skills, had not had regular medical check-ups or up-to-date immunizations, were not toilet trained, and were suffering from malnutrition, police said.
The couple previously lost custody of two other children after pleading guilty to misdemeanor child abuse in 2009, Kimbrough said, which led to the filing of felony charges for the second offenses.
The boys are living together in foster care where they are “doing as well as could be expected,” she said.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Mohammad Zargham)