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Published: Tuesday, 10/25/2005

Girl taken from home may return to Illinois

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
Michael Gravelle stands next to a bunk bed in the room where four of his adopted children slept at his Clarksfield Township home. He says the children were not abused.
Michael Gravelle stands next to a bunk bed in the room where four of his adopted children slept at his Clarksfield Township home. He says the children were not abused.
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NORWALK, Ohio - A hearing Thursday in Huron County Juvenile Court could determine the fate of 1 of 11 special-needs children removed from a Clarksfield Township home where some of them allegedly were kept in wood-and-wire cages.

A Chicago-area adoption agency, the Cradle, is asking that an 18-month-old girl it placed last year in the home of Michael and Sharen Gravelle be returned to Illinois and that her case be transferred to a court there.

According to a motion filed in Huron County Juvenile Court, the Cradle is the legal guardian of the girl, and the Gravelles' adoption of her has not been finalized.

"The agency, having been advised of the pending litigation in this matter, requests return of the child to Illinois and agency custody during the investigatory process," the motion says.

Susan Garner Eisenman, a Columbus attorney representing The Cradle, said the girl was placed with the Gravelles in August, 2004, four months after her birth.

Ms. Eisenman said the agency decided to seek renewed custody of the girl after she and 10 other adopted children, ages 3 to 14, were removed from the Gravelle home on Sept. 9 and placed in foster homes.

"The preferred jurisdiction is Illinois," she said, declining to comment further.

David Sherman, a Cleveland-area attorney for the Gravelles, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

A custody hearing for the other children is set for Dec. 6 in Huron County Juvenile Court. The county's Department of Job and Family Services has alleged in court documents that the youngsters, who suffer from such conditions as fetal alcohol syndrome and autism, were abused and neglected or in danger of being mistreated.

No criminal charges have been filed. Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler said yesterday that he was awaiting the results of psychological tests on the children before deciding whether to present the case to a grand jury.

The couple, in their first public comments since the children were removed, denied harming the children.

"We're trying to help children. That's where our heart is," Michael Gravelle said Sunday while taking a reporter and photographer for the Plain Dealer on a tour of his home near Wakeman, about 70 miles southeast of Toledo.

"We took kids that nobody else wanted," Mr. Gravelle said.

During the tour, the Gravelles pointed out holes they said the children had kicked in the walls and gouges in the drywall from their fingernails. Urine stains were visible on the baseboards, and the walls showed marks where the children had smeared their feces, the couple said.

"There is nothing easy about raising these children," Mr. Gravelle said. "We did not abuse them. That's the truth."

Mr. Gravelle said "enclosures" were used as sleeping quarters - and every shelf and cupboard in the house was covered with chicken wire - to prevent the children from hurting themselves with glass or eating dozens of different medicines.

"I felt terrible about it," he said. "But it's necessary."

The enclosures measure about 6 feet in length. The doors could be opened easily and had no locks on them, but a battery-powered alarm would be activated when the doors were opened.

Mrs. Gravelle said the couple would fight to have the children returned. "My kids are all I care about," she said, sobbing. "My kids are my life. I want my kids back."



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