The detective nearly took a step back as he opened the door to the apartment to serve the search warrant.
The stench of rotting food mixed with that of dirty clothes and feces was overpowering. Dirty dishes and trash were everywhere and the carpets were stained throughout. In a laundry hamper, he found a dead mouse.
The Flagstaff Police Department went to the 40-year-old father's Lake Mary home last October searching for evidence that he had been sexually abusing his 11-year-old daughter.
It was not the first time police and Child Protective Services had been to the home.
The girl and her brother had been taken away from their father at least twice prior to the sex abuse report, but they were returned each time.
The mother, who had separated from the father and given up primary custody, had asked for custody again, but she was denied.
The defendant had also been the subject of an investigation by Flagstaff police alleging that he had endangered the life of his son when he was hospitalized after being struck by a car while playing unsupervised in a parking lot.
The endangerment charge was ultimately dismissed in Coconino County Superior Court.
The man was sentenced to 10 years in prison last week for one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child as part of a plea deal with the Coconino County Attorney's Office. The man's name has been withheld to protect the identity of his victim.
A police report said that the girl's mother had surrendered primary custody of her children to the man when they separated.
A CPS report filed early in 2012 had detailed how the children had shown up at school reeking and were asked to shower. The principal told CPS that she had sprayed her office with Lysol after the children left because of the stench.
CPS case workers found living conditions similar to what the Flagstaff police detective walked into in October. The case manager said she almost gagged from the smell.
The father spent all day cleaning and the children were returned to him.
Then later in 2012, the mother, who lives in New Mexico, asked the Coconino County Court to give her custody.
"(The girl) said she was with her mom for the summer and she was happier," a report said.
Her motion was denied, court records show.
THREE YEARS OF ABUSE
Then last fall, the girl spoke up at school about being abused, according to a police report. She said she thought what was happening to her was wrong and told investigators about what her father had done to her in disturbing detail.
In a secret hiding place, she'd kept an exact count of how many times she'd been molested, over the course of approximately three years.
An investigator would tell the suspect during questioning that the level of detail -- including specific sights and smells -- would convince a courtroom of jurors of his guilt. The detective told the man he had a very, very intelligent daughter, a police report said.
"This just isn't right," the man said in response.
The girl told investigators that the abuse had started soon after her mother moved out. Her father would tell her not to tell police or he would go to jail, she told investigators.
TWO HOURS ON HOLD
In the fiscal year ending just before the father was arrested, CPS investigated 16 cases of alleged child sexual abuse in Coconino County. Case workers found just one instance in which they said the charge could be substantiated, according to the Department of Economic Security's most recent child welfare report.
At sentencing last week, the mother begged Coconino County Superior Court Division 2 Judge Dan Slayton for the maximum sentence allowable for her former husband, saying she couldn't believe what the defendant had done to his own daughter. Prosecutors also asked for a long prison sentence under the plea -- the plea agreement had set the penalty at between five and 10 years.
"I've been contacted many times by CPS and my kids have been removed from him twice," she said.
The mother said her response was, "What now?" when the school called about her children being taken away last October.
But the school said they couldn't tell her anything about what had happened to her children -- she'd have to contact CPS. It took some two hours on hold before she'd be confronted with the grim accusations.
"Please do not allow the system to fail my children for a second time," she said to Slayton.
HASN'T FULLY ADMITTED GUILT
In contrast, the defense had asked for a lenient sentence within the confines of the plea agreement, which required a five to 10 year prison term.
The man's family, including his brother, appealed to the judge, saying that the defendant had been a good father. His brother and others had asked the defendant not to take a plea deal and to stand up for his innocence at trial.
Under the advice of his attorney, the man took a plea deal for five to 10 years in prison.
The defendant still hasn't actually admitted his guilt, despite his plea. He took what is known as an Alford plea, or an "I'm guilty but I didn't do it" plea. The plea enables a defendant to maintain innocence and make a deal with prosecutors when they've been advised that there is substantial evidence against them.
Bruce Griffen, the father's lawyer, highlighted strong family support as a reason for a sentence on the lower end of the plea range. In letters to the judge, the family also questioned the girl's credibility and begged for a light sentence.
"The longer he spends in prison, the less productive he'll be when he gets out," the man's brother said.
LIVED IN DISGUSTING CONDITIONS
However, prosecutors questioned the family's perceptions of the defendant, pointing out that he had been unemployed and on food stamps for more than a year, yet allowed his children to live in disgusting conditions.
Senior Trial Attorney Jonathan Mosher said that the man should have benefited from his family's support, but did not.
"We're talking about a young girl that is so traumatized by this that as a prosecutor I have to consider if I can put her through a trial," Mosher said. "We're eager to avoid further traumatizing the victim."
County Attorney David Rozema reiterated that point.
"In these types of cases, one of the things we give a lot of consideration to is whether the victim wants to move forward to trial or not," said Rozema. "You're asking a 12-year-old girl to walk into a court room and talk about what dad did while he's sitting there."
The top local prosecutor said he has to balance the victim's wishes with pursuing long prison terms in the interest of public safety. In this case, Rozema said he was happy with the 10-year prison sentence.
Ultimately, Slayton agreed with prosecutors and issued the maximum sentence, citing emotional harm to the victim. The defendant must also register as a sex offender for the rest of his natural life.
Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or email@example.com.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected from its original version.