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Published: Sunday, 3/25/2007

Huron County liable in slaying by stepfather


NORWALK, Ohio - A jury ordered Huron County and its embattled child welfare agency to pay $600,000 to the estate of a young girl stabbed to death by the foster father the agency placed her with.

The decision Friday is another admonition for Huron County Job and Family Services, which was widely criticized for not intervening earlier in the case of two adoptive parents who made some of their 11 special needs children sleep in cages.

The jury found that the county commission and Job and Family Services were liable in the 2004 death of 11-year-old Connre Dixon, who was stabbed five times by her foster father, Paul Efaw, and bled to death in a barn on his property in Ridgefield Township. Efaw was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced in 2005 to three years in prison.

"I'm completely elated," said Jim Martin, an attorney representing the girl's estate. "I think it sends a message to the Huron County commissioners and the Department of Job and Family Services that they need to completely revamp the system from the bottom to the top."

During the four-day civil trial, witnesses testified that the agency knew of several child abuse allegations against Efaw, but still approved him as a foster parent and placed Connre in his home after removing the girl from her mother's care in 2003.

Job and Family Services Director Erich Dumbeck also testified that none of the agency's workers were disciplined as a result.

The agency also had come under fire in the case of the caged children after allegations surfaced that county social workers knew about the conditions at a home in rural Wakeman for two years before intervening.

Michael and Sharen Gravelle were convicted on child abuse and child endangering charges. They received two-year sentences but are appealing their convictions, saying the cages were needed to protect the children.

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