'Caged kids' parents get sentenced to 2 years
Prosecutor Russ Leffler asked the court to send the couple to prison for 12 years. McGimpsey held the prison sentences in abeyance while the Gravelles decide whether to file for an appeal. They were ordered to report to the Huron County Jail on April 2 if an appeal is not filed with the 6th District Court of Appeals.
The Clarksfield Township couple was convicted in December on four felony and two misdemeanor counts of child endangering and five misdemeanor charges of child abuse in connection with their treatment of some of the 11 children they adopted. The state claims the children slept in and were punished by having to stay in "cages."
The two eldest of the 11 children attended yesterday's hearing in a packed courtroom.
"What the Gravelles did was wrong," wrote one of the Gravelles' former daughters, whose letter was read by Assistant Public Defender Douglas Clifford. "There is no excuse in the world that could cover up for what they did. They are grown adults who know the difference between right and wrong. So, I ask that they get as much time in jail for as long as my siblings had to be in cages."
The Gravelles had their parental rights terminated last March by Juvenile Court Judge Tim Cardwell.
"They knew the cages were wrong because they made sure that we never told anyone. The day we were taken, Mom pulled me and my brother aside and said, 'who told?' ... I spent the most important years of my life being commanded like a dog being told when to eat, when to sleep, when to go to the bathroom, when to get a drink of water, when to work, etc.," she wrote.
"When we were adopted, the whole idea was supposed to be to have a better life. Then when we got to the Gravelles, we were cheated of that little bit of decency again," the letter stated.
One of the Gravelles' older boys also submitted a letter to court, which was read by Leffler.
"I would like to see you get as much jail as you gave us in the box. ... I'm glad this day has come and I'll never have to hear your names again. I know what hate is and that is what I feel for you," the boy wrote.
In an emotional plea before being sentenced, Michael Gravelle publicly spoke in court for the first time, "begging" McGimpsey not to send him to jail.
"I am telling you, I am not some guilty criminal the state wants you to believe. I may be a person who made mistakes, but we've all made mistakes. Put us in prison for 12 years? This is ludicrous, I am telling you. I am begging you. I do not deserve jail," Michael Gravelle said passionately, pointing at Leffler.
A tearful Sharen Gravelle also made a statement before being sentenced.
"In order to defend myself, I have to tell you about the broken children dumped in my life," she said. She told the court about an adopted daughter and an incident where the child reportedly yanked out all of her hair.
"I was told not to show any emotion, and to be quite honest, I didn't know there was any left," she said.
Both Gravelles maintained that they were at a loss as to how to handle the children's various behavioral issues, so they turned to Elaine Thompson, a therapist, for help and followed her direction to the letter.
The Gravelles told the court they made mistakes raising their children.
"It wasn't because we intended to anyone any harm," Sharen Gravelle said.
"I listened to the professionals. Loving my children was more important than being right," she said.
Thompson is scheduled for a pretrial next week and a jury trial next month. She is facing several charges of aiding and abetting child endangering and failing to report child abuse.
The Gravelles will be eligible for judicial release within six months of beginning their prison term, McGimpsey said.
"There's no easy way to address this case, and everyone will have their own opinion on how it should be addressed," McGimpsey said.
As McGimpsey handed down the sentence, Sharen Gravelle appeared to be writing on a notepad while her husband sat with his face propped on his hand and did not show any emotion. Both left the courthouse without comment.
After the sentencing, Leffler accused McGimpsey of "being frightened" of his ruling, citing a "lack of confidence" by allowing the Gravelles to begin their prison term at a later date.
"I think it's significant he stayed the sentence and that he outlined the issues that should be appealed," Ken Myers, Sharen Gravelle's attorney, said after the hearing.
Some of the issues McGimpsey pointed out that "need clarification by the appeals court" include the search warrant and a definition of child abuse.
"It's my prediction that the Gravelles will never serve a day in jail," Myers said. The appeals process could take up to a year to resolve, Leffler and Myers said.