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Published: Tuesday, 11/14/2006

Jury selection begins in caged-kids case

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Michael, left, and Sharen Gravelle listen to the judge before jury selection starts in their trial on child endangering charges. Michael, left, and Sharen Gravelle listen to the judge before jury selection starts in their trial on child endangering charges.
MARK DUNCAN / AP Enlarge

NORWALK Jury selection began today in the trial of a couple accused of making some of their 11 adopted special needs children sleep in cages, and perspective jurors were asked about their racial biases and how they were punished as children.

Michael and Sharen Gravelle are charged with 16 counts of felony child endangering and if convicted could face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each count. They also each face eight misdemeanor child endangering charges.

The process of seating a jury in Huron County Common Pleas Court could take days, with 100 people being questioned.

Earlier, about 350 potential jurors were sent questionnaires, and 250 were weeded out because of bias or other issues, said Ken Myers, who represents Sharen Gravelle.

Myers still has a motion pending to move the trial to out of Huron County, arguing there is too much publicity for the Gravelles to get a fair trial in the mostly rural northern Ohio county.

He said he is seeking ''a jury that is willing to set aside some of the things that they've heard.''

''There is no case. We're going to win this thing,'' said lawyer Richard Drucker, who represents Michael Gravelle. ''I think we have a good shot at having a fair and impartial jury.''

Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler said he's ''looking for an intelligent jury.''

The Gravelles have denied mistreating the children, who were ages 1 to 15 at the time of the alleged endangering. The youngsters were placed in foster care last fall after a county social worker likened the wood and chicken-wire enclosures in the Gravelle home to cages to kennels.

The Gravelles have repeatedly said the enclosures were necessary to keep the children from harming themselves or one another. The children have problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome and a disorder that involves eating nonfood items.

The Gravelles lost permanent custody in March and have not be granted visitation since then, Myers said.

Each potential juror was asked today about his or her knowledge of the case.

''The only thing that sticks in my mind is the way they were kept,'' said a man who was the first juror questioned. He said he didn't follow the media coverage.

The man answered no when Leffler asked if he believed black children need more forceful discipline than white children. The adopted children were black. The Gravelles are white.

Myers asked the man if the word ''cages'' created a negative image in his mind or would bias him.

''No sir, I know you have to hear the facts,'' he said.

Another juror said he was sexually abused by a priest as a child, and all the case lawyers promptly asked that he be removed from the jury pool.

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



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