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Published: Saturday, 12/23/2006

Parents of caged kids guilty of 4 felonies each<br>

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

NORWALK, Ohio - Michael and Sharen Gravelle, on trial for forcing some of their 11 adopted children to sleep in homemade wire and wood cages, were each found guilty yesterday of child endangering and child abuse.

The Gravelles were each convicted in Huron County Common Pleas Court of four felony counts of child endangering, two misdemeanor counts of child endangering, and five misdemeanor counts of child abuse. Each was acquitted of 13 charges.

Judge Earl McGimpsey set sentencing for Feb. 12.

The couple could each face 4 to 20 years in prison for the felony convictions. They each also face fines of up to $40,000.

Under state sentencing guidelines, sentences on the misdemeanor counts would be served concurrently with the felony sentences.

The Gravelles will remain free on bond until their sentencing.

The verdict was delivered a year to the day after the Gravelles lost their parental rights.

The couple claimed during the three-week trial they needed to keep some of the youngsters in enclosed beds rigged with alarms to protect them from themselves and each other and to stop them from wandering at night.

Michael Gravelle looks on as his wife, Sharen, talks to one of the couple s attorneys after the verdict was read yesterday in Huron County Common Pleas Court.
Judge Earl McGimpsey set sentencing for Feb. 12. In addition to possible prison terms, the couple could be fined up to $40,000 each.
Michael Gravelle looks on as his wife, Sharen, talks to one of the couple s attorneys after the verdict was read yesterday in Huron County Common Pleas Court. Judge Earl McGimpsey set sentencing for Feb. 12. In addition to possible prison terms, the couple could be fined up to $40,000 each.
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The Gravelles left the courthouse without comment.

"We're obviously very disappointed in the verdict. I'm sure that there will be an appeal that ensues," defense attorney Richard Drucker said.

"I feel terrible. We didn't think they were guilty of any of the criminal offenses," said Kenneth Myers, another Gravelle lawyer. "The Gravelles are good people. They did the best they could in a difficult situation with very little help."

The jury, made up of seven men and five women, announced its verdict on the fourth day of deliberations.

Assistant Prosecutor Daivia Kasper said she was happy with the outcome.

"We'd like to have seen convictions on all of the charges," she said. "But we're satisfied with the verdicts."

The original 30-count indictment against each Gravelle contained 17 felony charges.

"This certainly reflects this case wasn't easy for the prosecution and it wasn't easy for the jury," Mr. Myers said. "It seems this was not an automatic condemnation of the beds."

The Gravelles, both dressed casually in sweaters, sat side by side through the reading of their verdicts without emotion. Michael Gravelle rocked in his chair, his chin and white beard resting on his hand as he watched the jury.

Sharen Gravelle, who took notes the entire time, kept her eyes averted to the defense table.

None of the jurors made eye contact with the defendants when entering the courtroom or when the judge read through each count.

The panel began deliberating Tuesday afternoon after closing arguments in the trial, which began Nov. 29. They left the courthouse in a van after telling the judge they did not want to talk with reporters, court administrator Linda Stower said.

Sheriff's deputies removed the Gravelles' 11 adopted children from their rural Huron County home Sept. 9, 2005, after finding cages built around bunk beds for some of the children.

One Gravelle child testified during the trial that he was forced to live in a bathroom for 81 days, sleeping in a bathtub because of a bed-wetting problem. The Gravelles' attorneys denied those charges, saying the boy exaggerated the length of his bathroom stay, and an expert for the defense testified that the technique helped the boy.

Other children testified that the Gravelles hit them with a wooden paddle, made them write out Bible verses as punishment, and dunked the head of a girl who had Down syndrome in a toilet.

Some of the youngsters testified that they were not forced to sleep in cages and missed their adoptive parents, drawing tears from some jurors.

The prosecution also called witnesses at the trial who testified that the Gravelles disciplined their children by shoving their heads in toilets, beating them with wooden sticks and boards, and hosing them outside the house in winter.

Most of the children were placed in the Gravelle home as foster children from other Ohio counties before the Gravelles eventually adopted them.

On Dec. 22, 2005, Huron County Juvenile Judge Timothy Cardwell stripped the Gravelles of their parental rights to their adopted children. That ruling has been appealed.

Testimony during the trial was critical of the performance of the child services division of the Huron County agency that oversaw the care of the foster and adopted children.

David Broehl, the county's director of children services, testified he didn't recall hearing about the children being housed in cages before the children were removed, despite a meeting with a care-giver in 2003 who complained about conditions in the home. He testified under cross-examination that he and his top investigator did not hear "anything that would rise to an investigation."

Mr. Broehl, reached at his home in Wooster yesterday, referred questions to his boss, Erich Dumbeck, director of the county's Department of Jobs and Family Services.

Mr. Dumbeck said he was pleased with the verdict against the agency's ex-adoptive parents. "I think that it's important that justice is done," he said.

"We were more concerned about the [2005] juvenile case," he said. "Our job is to protect the kids, and when they were removed from the [Gravelle] home and we gained custody, that was the biggest win for us."

Mr. Dumbeck said as a result of the Gravelle case, the agency has refined some of its procedures when complaints are filed and adjusted its system of checks and balances to prevent a future incident, which he said was "1 in 10 million."

Debbie Nottke, a foster mother to one of the Gravelle children, said she was pleased with the verdict. "I can't wait to go home and tell him. It will be his best Christmas present he'll ever get," she said. "I've been here every day for him."

Ms. Nottke has cared for the teenage boy for 15 months. She said he's doing very well at home and doing well at school, where he participates in sports.

Margaret Kern, the legal guardian for all of the Gravelle children, said they are all "doing really well."

She said the children have one request for the media: "They hate being labeled 'special needs.' They are normal, healthy kids who are doing well in school, at their new foster homes, and in their community."

Calling them "survivors," Ms. Kern said, "They all have friends and activities, and great enthusiasm and zest for life."

Contact Jim Sielicki at:

jsielicki@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078



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