Gravelles begin fight for new trial

Date: 2007-01-26

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

"You have enough here to overturn this verdict," Sharen Gravelle's attorney Ken Myers told Judge Earl McGimpsey of Huron County Common Pleas Court yesterday during a hearing to either overturn the couple's conviction or grant a new trial. The Gravelles were convicted in December of two misdemeanor and four felony counts each of child endangering and five misdemeanor counts of child abuse.

McGimpsey repeatedly asked Myers how errors made during the investigation of the Gravelles by the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services relieved the couple of their culpability of the crimes.

"It's my belief that this case has been unfair from the beginning and constitutionally unfair to the Gravelles," Myers said.

The Gravelles' sentencing hearing was postponed until Feb. 14 at 8:30 a.m. yesterday to accommodate a hearing in the 6th District Court of Appeals concerning the Gravelles' attempt to regain custody of the children. Last March, Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Cardwell stripped the couple of their parental rights because of an abuse ruling.

A main issue Myers raised with the court yesterday included allegations that Prosecutor Russ Leffler knew about the Gravelle children sleeping in "cages" since October 2003 but didn't pursue the matter because it was an election year.

"For whatever reason, the investigation didn't go forward in 2003, and it was a tragedy," Leffler said. "There were 22 more months the children had to live there in these conditions."

Leffler submitted an affidavit to the court yesterday morning signed by a social worker who reportedly told a fellow employee that Leffler decided in October 2003 not to investigate a report from a respite care company about the "cages."

The affidavit, signed by the former social worker Stephanie Alexander, said "I spoke to Russ Leffler about the Gravelles investigation in 2000, not in 2003 or 2004."

She also claimed in her affidavit that she was not involved in the investigation involving the Gravelles in 2003.

Myers obtained the social worker notes from Margaret Kern, a court-appointed advocate for the Gravelle children, who accused some Job and Family Services employees of perjuring themselves during the Gravelle trial.

Myers told the court he had received a copy of the same report, drafted by social worker Jo Johnson, but the statement about Leffler had been redacted.

"Obviously, it hurts when you're accused of doing things for political reasons," Leffler said after the hearing.

Leffler said the statement was redacted in the normal course of releasing records that reference privileged information between public officials and their attorneys.

A state report that detailed mistakes made during the investigation of the Gravelles by the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services was also targeted as grounds for a new trial.

Myers claimed he wasn't given a copy of it until after the verdict, while Leffler told the court he never had a copy.

"It doesn't matter if Mr. Leffler knew about this report. He's responsible for his client," Myers said.

"There was never an intention to hide information," Leffler said. "There's an immense amount of material in the case, more than the usual amount."

The perjury claims were not broached during the hearing, and five Job and Family Services employees who were subpoenaed for the hearing didn't testify.

David Broehl, who was named by Kern as a Job and Family Services employee who perjured himself in the trial, refused to answer questions from the media.

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