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Published: Friday, 12/22/2006

Parents convicted of caging some children

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

NORWALK, Ohio Michael and Sharen Gravelle, on trial for forcing some of their 11 adopted children to sleep in home-made wire and wood cages, were each found guilty today of four felony and seven misdemeanor counts.

The couple had pleaded not guilty. They claimed during the three-week trial they needed to keep some of the youngsters in enclosed beds rigged with alarms to protect them from themselves and each other and stop them from wandering at night.

The Gravelles were each convicted of four felony counts of child endangering, two misdemeanor counts of child endangering and five misdemeanor counts of child abuse. Each was acquitted of 13 charges.

Huron County Judge Earl McGimpsey set sentencing for Feb. 12. The couple could each face 4 to 20 years in prison for the felony convictions. They each also face fines of up to $40,000.

Under state sentencing guidelines, sentences on the misdemeanor counts would be served concurrent with the felony sentences.

The Gravelles, both dressed causually in sweaters, sat side by side through the reading of their verdicts without emotion. Michael Gravelle rocked in his chair, stroking his white beard with his hand and stared at the jury. Sharen Gravelle looked down at the defense table and took notes.

Michael Gravelle, left, looks at his wife, Sharen, after the verdicts were being read in their abuse trial. Michael Gravelle, left, looks at his wife, Sharen, after the verdicts were being read in their abuse trial.
MADALYN RUGGIERO / AP Enlarge

I feel terrible. We didn t think they were guilty of any of the criminal offenses, said Kenneth Myers, one of the Gravelles lawyers. The Gravelles are good people. They are well-intentioned people.

He said it was difficult to determine whether the convictions were based on the fact that some of the children were forced to sleep in cages or whether it was because of the discipline the Gravelles used in their home near Wakeman, Ohio, about 60 miles east of Toledo.

The Gravelles will remain free on bond until their sentencing.

The jury of seven men and five women began deliberating Tuesday afternoon after closing arguments in the child-endangering and abuse trial that began Nov. 29 in Huron County Common Pleas Court. They left the courthouse today saying they did not want to talk with reporters.

Sheriff s deputies removed the Gravelles 11 adopted children from their rural Huron County home Sept. 9, 2005, after finding cages built around bunk beds for some of the children.

One Gravelle child testified during the trial that he was forced to live in a bathroom for 81 days, sleeping in a bathtub because of a bed-wetting problem. The Gravelles attorneys denied those charges, saying the boy exaggerated the length of his bathroom stay, and an expert for the defense testified that the technique helped the boy.

Other children testified that the Gravelles hit them with a wooden paddle, made them write out Bible verses as punishment and dunked the head of a girl who had Down Syndrome in a toilet.

Some of the youngsters testified that they were not forced to sleep in cages and missed their adoptive parents, drawing tears from some jurors.

They were living like animals in their cages, Prosecutor Russ Leffler said of the children in his closing arguments earlier this week.

The prosecution also called witnesses at the trial who testified that the Gravelles disciplined their children by shoving their heads in toilets, beating them with wooden sticks and two-by-fours, and hosing them time outside the house in winter.

Most of the children were placed in the Gravelle home as foster children from Cuyahoga and Stark counties before the Gravelles eventually adopted them.

A Huron County Juvenile Court judge has stripped the Gravelles of their parental rights to their adopted children. That ruling has been appealed.

Debbie Nottke, a foster mother to one of the Gravelle children, said after then verdict that she was pleased with the verdict. I can t wait to go home and tell him. It will be his best Christmas present ever, she said.

Ms. Nottke has cared for the boy for the past 15 months. She said he s doing very well at home and doing well at school, where he s participates in sports.

Margaret Kern, the legal guardian for all of the Gravelle children, said they are all doing really well.

She said the children have one request for the media: They hate being labeled special needs. They are normal, healthy kids who are doing well in school, at their new foster homes, and in their community.

Calling them survivors, Ms. Kern said, They all have friends and activities, and great enthusiasm, and zest for life.

This report includes information from The Associated Press.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.



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