Lorinda Bailey, mom of malnourished kids who spoke through grunts, pleads guilty to child abuse

Wayne Sperling undergoing exam

DENVER - A woman accused of starving her four sons and keeping them in an apartment full of cat feces and flies has reached a plea with prosecutors.

Lorinda Bailey pleaded guilty to a second offense of child abuse on Friday. In exchange, six other counts are being dropped.

"We believe that this was the best disposition that we could reach to hold her accountable for her role with the children," Denver District Court spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough told 7NEWS.

Bailey faces up to seven years in prison when she is sentenced on Sept. 18.

Proceedings against the boys' father, Wayne Sperling, are on hold as he undergoes a mental health evaluation.

The couple's children were just 2 to 6 years old when they were found in squalid conditions last fall.  When they underwent hospital exams, medical personnel found that the boys could only communicate in grunts, were malnourished and were not toilet trained, according to an arrest affidavit.

Prosecutors told 7NEWS the boys are still together in "safe care" and are doing "fairly well all things considered."

"The script isn't written. They can get help, but it's ...  it's hard to imagine that without major intervention, that they have much potential," said Desmond K. Runyan, MD, DrPH. 

Dr. Runyan is the Executive Director of The Kempe Center for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect.

"Early neglect is related to later aggression and criminal behavior, it's related to mental retardation. It's really destructive in the long term wellbeing of the children," said Dr. Runyan.

The investigation began after Bailey took took the 2-year-old to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital on Sept.  29, 2013, for a cut on his forehead that she said happened after a fall.

An emergency room doctor informed authorities that the child was non-verbal,  unwashed and smelled like cigarette smoke, prompting a welfare check by a Denver Human Services case worker. Bruising behind the child's right ear appeared consistent with pinching, the doctor said.

The welfare check revealed the heartbreaking conditions. There were three other boys, aged 4, 5 and 6, living in the family's home on 18th Avenue in Denver but an officer who had accompanied the case worker said all appeared to be about the same size and could not determine any age or developmental difference between the three oldest children. Two of the children were wearing nothing but diapers.

Sperling and Bailey had pleaded guilty in June 2009 to misdemeanor child abuse, according to their affidavit.

Also, in 2012, while police were investigating reports of children seen hanging from a first-floor window, officers found clutter and unsanitary conditions at the home, but the four boys were allowed to remain in the home.

Prosecutors said the case is among the most horrific they've seen, but the state's child abuse laws kept them from pursuing harsher penalties because the children did not suffer serious physical injuries.

"Knowing that (Bailey) was willing to plead guilty to the most serious count and name all four children, have a potential prison sentence, when all those things were taken into consideration, made the most sense. And indeed, we thought it was justice,"  Kimbrough said.

 A status hearing for Sperling has been scheduled for Oct. 17, to review the findings of his competency evaluation.

"I actually don’t think the law from the standpoint of criminal prosecution is the trick," said Dr. Runyan. "It really, it's about the kids, changing and prosecuting the parents isn't going to make those kids any better. I think we need to have better training and preparation of the workers that are able to go out and do the work. This is a situation where in a sense, you get what you pay for, and if you decide to have very high workloads for social workers, and low salaries, and not get continued education, then you get poor quality work."

Read more details of exactly what prosecutors saw inside the home, including the 1-2 inches of cat feces found under the bunk bed where the children slept.

Also, read about a paper trail of abuse and negligence charges dating back to 2006.

Print this article Back to Top