October 9, 2013 Updated: October 9, 2013 at 7:09 am
DENVER — The Denver apartment where four young, malnourished brothers were living was squalid and filled with an unbearable odor when police checked on their living conditions last month, authorities said.
Seven years earlier, police who checked on the same address where the same parents lived with three other young children described strikingly similar conditions.
The parents, Wayne Sperling and Lorinda Bailey, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child-abuse charges in the earlier case and were ordered to take parenting classes while serving two years of probation.
On Tuesday, they appeared in court on more serious felony child-abuse charges, and state welfare officials are reviewing the case.
Bailey, 35, and Sperling, 66, are the parents of all seven children, according to an arrest warrant affidavit and court records.
Bailey is free on bond. She declined to comment after leaving court Tuesday.
Sperling was still in custody, and his attorney made no public statement. He appeared in court with his long white hair in a ponytail and wearing a long, flowing beard.
Police were called to the couple's apartment in October 2006 when passers-by reported two young children were playing in the street. The children, ages 2 and 4, were dirty, wore unwashed clothing and had not been fed for several hours, officers said. The oldest spoke few words and mostly grunted and pointed to communicate, the records show.
The officers said they found rotten food, trash and insects in the apartment.
Sperling and Bailey arrived at the home later with their third child, then 3 months old, the records show.
All three children were placed in the care of child services. Their current status and whereabouts were not publicly known.
Police began investigating the new case 10 days ago. Bailey took her youngest son, age 2, to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital on Sept. 29 for a cut on his forehead that she said happened after a fall.
An emergency room doctor informed authorities that the boy was unwashed and smelled like cigarette smoke. Bruising behind the child's right ear appeared consistent with pinching, the doctor said.
Bailey said the bruise was caused by one of the other boys who threw a toy at the 2-year-old.
A police officer and Denver Human Services caseworker went to Bailey and Sperling's apartment — at the same address as the 2006 case — where they found the other three boys.
The apartment was littered with cat feces, flies and urine and had an "unbearable" smell like that of a decomposing animal, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
The three boys, ages 4, 5 and 6, could not speak and only grunted, and the officer could not detect any developmental differences among them, authorities said. Hospital exams showed they were malnourished and not toilet-trained.
All four boys were also placed in protective custody.
Bailey said she thought the apartment was safe, according to the affidavit, 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 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 with four boys, he had trouble keeping the apartment clean. He said he intended to begin home-schooling the 6-year-old.
The parents told police the children have their own language and grunt at each other. But the couple insisted the children were able to speak to them.
Neighbors said they had complained to authorities about the boys' conditions, but nothing was done.
David Allen, who lives in the same building, said he had called police or child services in July.
"We thought they were going to come out immediately, given the circumstances, and they never came out," he said.
David Littman, an attorney whose office is across an alley from the apartment building, said he called 911 last year when he saw three of the boys, in diapers, hanging out a first-floor window throwing toys out.
Police went to the residence in April 2012 — apparently in response to Littman's call — and issued Sperling a citation on a charge of wrongs to minors.
"What struck us more at that time was ... the children would appear angry and defiant, and they would look at us as they were throwing things onto the driveway," Littman said.
"If there's a regret that I have, (it) is perhaps that was a cry for help, and while we made a report, we didn't go beyond making that report," he said.
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.
Associated Press writer Dan Elliott in Denver and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.