Gravelles guilty of endangering, abuse

Date: 2006-12-23

Gravelles guilty of endangering, abuse

Jury clears couple of 13 of 24 counts, but prosecutor sees 'victory'

Saturday, December 23, 2006
Mark Puente
Plain Dealer Reporter

Norwalk – The so-called cages in Michael and Sharen Gravelle's home persuaded a jury to convict the couple on only some of the 24 child-endangering charges they faced.

The Gravelles originally were indicted on 30 charges for keeping their children in the enclosures. (Six charges were dropped before the trial.) A jury convicted them Friday of 11 counts, but prosecutors say that should stop them from ever adopting again.

The Huron County jury found the Gravelles each guilty of four felony counts of child endangering, two misdemeanor counts of child endangering and five misdemeanor counts of child abuse.

Although the Gravelles were each acquitted on 13 charges, the jury did the right thing, the prosecutor's office said.

Assistant Prosecutor Daivia Kasper said she is satisfied with the verdicts.

“Four felonies on each is still a victory for the state and the children,” she said. “I hope the Gravelles would be prevented from adopting or fostering children.”

Prosecutor Russ Leffler is traveling abroad and could not be reached. He told jurors Tuesday that the case was about the beds, not the harsh discipline in the home. County officials removed the 11 special-needs children from the Gravelle home in September 2005 after they received a tip and found the brightly painted, chicken-wire-enclosed beds in which some of the children slept.

The couple said they built the enclosed beds to prevent the children from hurting themselves and others. The couple lost custody of the adopted children in March.

Two older children testified during the trial that the Gravelles hit them with a wooden paddle, hosed them with water outside in freezing temperatures and dunked the head of a girl with Down syndrome into a toilet. The jury found each of the Gravelles guilty on three charges — one a felony — related to that child.

Four of the youngsters testified they were not forced to sleep in the enclosed beds and missed their adoptive parents, causing tears for some jurors.

Defense attorneys say they plan to appeal.

When Judge Earl McGimpsey last week reduced the eight felonies that the couple initially faced to misdemeanors, he said the case has grounds for appeal.

“I don’t think the last word has been written,” defense lawyer Ken Myers said after the verdict.

The Gravelles did not testify but have said they took on so many needy children because no one else wanted them.

Myers said the verdict does not condemn the beds. “It was the use of discipline,” he said. “The jury clearly did not find the beds abusive.”

Richard Drucker, attorney for Michael Gravelle, said the couple is “greatly disappointed.”

Drucker said he is baffled as to why the jury found the couple guilty on some charges, but not others.

“In many respects, the defendants could consider this a victory in that so many counts were thrown out,” Drucker said.

Jurors declined to comment Friday and quickly left the courthouse with a sheriff’s escort.

The Gravelles showed no emotion during the reading of the verdicts. Michael Gravelle rocked in his chair, stroked his white beard and stared at the jury. Sharen Gravelle looked down at the defense table and took notes.

The couple, escorted by a sheriff’s deputy and Myers, declined to comment while dashing from the courthouse. As photographers swarmed around them, Sharen Gravelle, with tears welling in her eyes and her voice cracking, asked Myers, who was cradling her, to “get them out of my face.”

Debbie Nottke, a foster mother to one of the older children who testified against the Gravelles, stood outside the courtroom smiling after the verdicts were read. “He is going to be very happy,” Nottke said of the child.

The Gravelles will have about seven weeks to prepare for a possible jail term. McGimpsey allowed them to remain free on bond and will sentence them Feb. 12.

Elaine Thompson, the Gravelles’ private social worker, faces a February trial on 32 charges of complicity to commit child endangering and failure to report abuse. She treated the children for about four years and knew about the beds.

Her attorney, Marilu Laubenthal, declined to comment.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 440-324-3773

© 2006 The Plain Dealer


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