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Published: Thursday, 12/7/2006

Testimony from adopted children toggles between bloody nose, birthday parties

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Michael and Sheren Gravelle Michael and Sheren Gravelle
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NORWALK, Ohio Two of the younger adopted children of Sheren and Michael Gravelle testified about life in the Gravelle home today, painting different pictures about how they were treated.

A son said he was kept in a cage and once received a bloody nose when his father pushed his head into the bathtub during a bath. The boy also confirmed that some of his siblings were hosed down outside the house.

A former neighbor of the Gravelles testified earlier this week that he saw Mr. Gravelle hosing a boy down in the driveway in 20-degree weather.

A daughter testified that she was allowed to sleep in a bed, but that an alarm was on her bedroom door. She confirmed that the Gravelles had birthday parties for her and some of her siblings.

The Gravelles wept as she testified, and a couple of jurors teared up as well when the girl, one of the children who did not sleep in a cage, said she was upset that she no longer saw the Gravelles.

Unlike many of other children, who suffered from problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome, she did not have any special needs.

Defense attorney Kenneth Myers, of cross-examination, showed the girl photos of her dressed as a ballerina, wearing a tiara, and with a bicycle she received as a gift.

The girl testified she was the little girl in the pictures.

Mr. Myers asked her how she felt after seeing the photographs.

Happy, a little bit, the girl said.

The Gravelles are charged with 16 counts of felony child endangering and eight misdemeanor child endangering charges. If convicted, they face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each felony count.

The children ranged in age from 1 to 14 when authorities removed them in September 2005 from the home in rural Wakeman, about 70 miles southeast of Cleveland.

The youngsters were placed in foster care last fall and the couple lost custody in March.

During testimony yesterday, two children told about their life in a house of punishment and humiliation.

A 14-year-old boy testified that he was forced to sleep in a bathtub for 81 days with two sheets and sometimes a blanket. He said he was forced to stay in the tub because of his bed-wetting problem.

He testified that another time he was punished by being forced to stay in "his box" for a month and a half, except when he had to use the bathroom.

"Mine was really small. In the summertime it was really hot in there. We said we liked them because it made us safe. But we really didn't like them. We said it to make them [the Gravelles] happy," the boy testified.

While in the wire-and-wooden cage built by the Gravelles he was ordered to write out the Book of Deuteronomy in The Bible in long-hand.

Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler asked the boy if that was his favorite book in the Bible.

"No, it was just the longest book in the Bible," the boy testified.

His sister, who took the stand in the afternoon, corroborated his testimony. The children slept upstairs. The only bathroom among the three in the house that they were permitted to use was downstairs.

Both children were questioned about the discipline the

Gravelles meted out.

The boy said his other sister, who suffered from Down Syndrome, was punished by having her head shoved in a toilet, or having a sock placed in her mouth if it was hanging open. That form of punishment was not restricted to the handicapped girl, the two teens said. Some children were taken outside and hosed off in all types of weather.

They are the first two Gravelle children to testify in the criminal trial who were living in the home when authorities removed them a year ago. The court has ordered their identities not to be made public. They described wireless alarms placed on the doors of the cages and bedrooms the Gravelles used to warn them if the children tried to leave during the night.

Over objections of the defense attorneys, Prosecutor Russ Leffler showed the boy an alarm similar to the ones found in the home and triggered the shrill sound for 15 seconds to demonstrate its volume.

"Did it wake you up from a sound sleep?" Mr. Leffler asked. "Yes," the boy replied.

The Gravelles contend the alarms and cages were necessary to prevent the children from wandering or going to the kitchen during the night for something to eat. The children said they were told the cages were made for their safety.

Shortly before the children were removed from the homes, the Gravelles had stopped using the alarm on the boy's cage because of improvements in his behavior. Other changes were promised, he said. "They said once you stop wetting the bed, you can get your mattress back," he said on cross-examination by defense lawyer Kenneth Myers.

The tall, lanky boy, testifying in a monotone but with clear answers, said when he was forced to live in the children's sole bathroom, he had to step out when the other children wanted to use the toilet or take a bath. He then had to dry the tub so he could sleep in it, he said.

When the children were not sent to their rooms early as punishment, they had to be in bed by 7 p.m., he said.

While in the wire-and-wooden cage he was ordered to write out the Book of Deuteronomy in the Bible in long-hand. He said he can't recall why he was being punished. He said it took him about a month and a half and he had to remain in his box while copying the text.

Both children testified that most of the children did not have mattresses and blankets.

The boy told the jury the pillows were taken away because the children learned how to muffle the sound of the alarms so they could leave their cages.

Later, under cross-examination by defense attorney Richard Drucker, the girl admitted that she told investigators in 2005 that the blankets and mattresses were removed because the children were "shredding" them.

Mr. Drucker questioned her credibility by using statements she had given to sheriff's deputies and child welfare officials in which she said bedding was provided to the boys, but was taken away after they destroyed it.

The girl repeatedly told Mr. Drucker she did not recall making those statements, but on questioning, said she did not deny making them, either.

The defense attorney contrasted the statements she gave to investigators with her testimony given in response to the prosecutor's questions yesterday. "The truth is relative to what you want for yourself, isn't it," Mr. Drucker asked.

Earlier, the girl said she agreed with a question posed by Mr. Myers as to whether she was angry with the Gravelles.

"Just about them getting away with stuff they shouldn't get away with," she replied.

Earlier, two foster parents testified about some of the difficulties the children had adjusting initially, although most of them began to fit in well with their new families. Many of the children have special needs. Some were born with addictions to drugs and one child is HIV positive.

Debbie Nottke is the foster parent for the boy who testified yesterday. She testified that "he's an awesome child" who excels in school and in sports.

In addition, she kept two other Gravelle children, both of whom were removed by the county Department of Job and Family Services.

One boy was removed to be reunited with another sibling, although Mrs. Nottke said she was upset with the agency because they never told her upfront of those plans.

"We were hurt that they were planning to move him without telling us," she said. "He was doing well and they ruined it."

The second boy was sent to another foster home because the boy found an nonworking cigarette lighter and attempted to use it to set a piece of paper on fire in his room.

Another foster parent testified about the two siblings she received.

Anita Thorne described the girl as "someone who wanted to be loved. She wanted to be cuddled."

But Mrs. Thorne asked the agency to remove the girl earlier this month after the girl, who was riding in the back seat, struck her on the head while driving. She also reported an incident in which the girl said a boy at school had "touched her inappropriately."

Contact; Jim Sielicki at:

jsielicki@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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