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Published: Friday, 9/22/2006

Judge rules for defense in caged kids data request

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

NORWALK, Ohio - Lawyers for the parents charged with abusing their 11 adopted children won a judicial victory last night when a judge in Huron County Common Pleas Court ordered the prosecution to turn over more documents needed for their trial two months from now.

Defense attorney Kenneth Myers obtained most of what he sought in demands presented to Judge Earl R. McGimpsey, saying previous documents and records turned over were incomplete.

Michael and Sharen Gravelle are scheduled to be tried Nov. 14 on felony charges of endangering children, perjury, and falsification, plus misdemeanor charges of endangering children.

The couple have pleaded not guilty.

Last night's hearing was primarily legal housekeeping. The ruling, which took place during an unusual evening session, was delayed nearly two hours while the two sides hashed out details behind closed doors before resuming on the record in open court.

Afterward, Mr. Myers told reporters he was encouraged by the judge's rulings.

"I'm encouraged by any step forward that we take," he said. "I'm looking forward to taking the case to trial."

The Gravelles' attorneys listed eight points in which they said Prosecutor Russell Leffler was not providing the documents needed for the Gravelles' defense.

"From my point of view, the more information I have, the better," Mr. Myers said.

The judge declined to order the prosecution to turn over videotapes that were made of the children during visitations, and he rejected a request to turn over information from a social worker, Jo Johnson, because it was the product of Internet research.

That type of information is also available to the defendants, should they want to conduct their own research, the judge said.

Mr. Leffler admitted that one document, the original home-study report that may be the crux of the state's charge of perjury and five counts of falsification, could not be found.

Copies of the report are found in several counties involved in providing children to the family, but the original bears the notary seal.

The Gravelles contend that the seal was not on the original document, and they have questioned its authenticity.

The judge ordered Mr. Leffler to continue looking for the original and set a Sept. 27 deadline.

Failure to provide the study should be grounds to drop those counts, Mr. Myers countered.

"The original will indicate whether there is any falsification," Mr. Myers told the judge. "That original is important."

The defense attorneys also obtained the complete bill of particulars that go into depth about the charges, school and medical records, reports from social workers that would include up-to-date reports, and records from home visits made by the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services.

Mr. Myers said later that documentation is important because it would show social workers were aware of the circumstances of the children's care, including confinement in so-called cages.

"The Gravelles did not act alone. They had constant visits from the county [social workers]."

Outside the courtroom, the prosecutor said he was not discouraged by the rulings.

"We will present the case as it is," he said, "and let the chips fall."

Contact Jim Sielicki at:

jsielicki@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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