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Published: Thursday, 12/14/2006

Jury views video tour of youths' caged beds

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Huron County court reporter Yolanda Walton looks up at, from right, defense attorneys Kenneth Myers and Richard Drucker, and Judge Earl McGimpsey during a sidebar. Huron County court reporter Yolanda Walton looks up at, from right, defense attorneys Kenneth Myers and Richard Drucker, and Judge Earl McGimpsey during a sidebar.
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NORWALK, Ohio - A different sort of picture emerged yesterday of the caged beds used by the 11 adopted children of Michael and Sharen Gravelle.

That picture, presented in a video tour of the children's bedrooms, was shown on a giant video screen for the members of the Huron County Common Pleas Court jury to see and evaluate.

The soundless video was shown at the start of the defense presentation of its case. Jury selection in the case began Nov. 14.

Kenneth Myers and Richard Drucker, the Gravelles' attorneys, began by showing a video of a girl walking into each of the Gravelle children's bedrooms.

The girl, a friend of the Gravelle family, was shown entering each cage, stretching out, lying down inside, or lying on the bunk beds.

The video was about 10 minutes in length. The camera zoomed into the cages, showing beds with mattresses, pillows, and blankets.

Investigators said bedding was missing when they raided the home on Sept. 9, 2005, to remove the children.

The video was intended to show the size of the cages in relation to the child, countering the prosecution's contention that the cages "posed a substantial risk of serious physical harm" or posed a substantial risk of seriously impairing or retarding the children's mental health or development.

Earlier in the day, Prosecu

Russ Leffler rested his case after presenting nine days of evidence and more than 40 witnesses, including eight of the Gravelle children.

Judge Earl McGimpsey, meeting with the attorneys in the morning without the jurors present, rejected a request to acquit the couple of the 16 individual felony charges.

The defense attorneys claimed that testimony by three psychologists failed to show culpability or reckless behavior, an argument the judge didn't buy.

"I do feel there's sufficient evidence put forth by the state," Judge McGimpsey said.

But the judge said he might reconsider the motion after the defense rested. He also said he might instruct the jurors that they could weigh convictions on lesser charges, such as misdemeanor child abuse, if warranted.

"A reasonable mind could decide on the lesser charges" if the evidence does not support the claim that the Gravelles posed a substantial risk to the children's development, the judge said.

Mr. Myers, speaking during a break, said the judge's decision was nevertheless significant for the Gravelles.

"The question is not whether the case is dismissed, but now what charges the jury will consider," Mr. Myers said.

Mr. Myers said he and Mr. Drucker would again ask the judge to dismiss all the charges after they wrap up their case by the end of today or tomorrow.

During the morning session without the jurors present, the two sides agreed to stipulations that were entered into the record for the jury to consider without presenting testimony.

The stipulations included the fact that the Gravelles built the cages in 2002.

They also agreed that the jury would be told that the arrival of one of the younger boys was a "healing balm in the home" because the other children were attentive to the newcomer's needs and that Mrs. Gravelle had taken training courses in foster care before the arrival of five additional children.

One defense witness was called to the stand before the judge sent the jurors home early.

Cynthia Lee Hay, who worked for Comfort Keepers in the Gravelle home, said she never saw an abusive situation while providing respite care between January and June, 2003.

She saw the caged beds, which she said resembled the ones in the video, and did not believe they were a form of child abuse.

She worked on Sundays during the day and did not see the children sleeping in them.

In answer to Mr. Myers' question, Ms. Hay said she would have first "confronted" the Gravelles if she thought there was child abuse in the home, and then "I would have called the cops."

Her testimony was in stark contrast to another respite care worker who testified earlier this month for the prosecution.

Carlyle Smith said he visited the Gravelles' home in October, 2003, to meet with the family before accepting a job as a part-time caregiver in the home.

He said the Gravelles told him he was not to go upstairs where the children slept, and he testified that Mrs. Gravelle referred to the children, who are black, as "monkeys" in the presence of the children during his interview.

Ms. Hay said she heard no such racially insensitive expressions and said she believed the parents cared for their adopted children.

Mr. Drucker, who presented his opening statement yesterday, reminded the jurors that "Sharen and Michael Gravelle have no burden of proof" to meet. That is an issue for the prosecutor to meet, he said.

The defense will present a handful of witnesses and will use the testimony of therapist Elaine Thompson, but will not offer her as a witness.

Ms. Thompson, who was indicted with the Gravelles earlier this year, will be tried later on charges she failed to report the cages and alleged child abuse while treating the Gravelle children in their home near Wakeman, Ohio.

Mr. Drucker said Ms. Thompson's testimony would be taken from the Juvenile Court hearing earlier this year that resulted in the Gravelles losing permanent custody of the children.

"I'm firmly convinced, based on the evidence you've already heard [the Gravelles] were in a very bad situation and were crying out for help" dealing with their unruly children, he said.

Contact Jim Sielicki at:

jsielicki@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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