Deliberations begin in case of 'caged' kids

Date: 2006-12-20

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

Defense attorneys dared the jurors to "walk a mile" in the Gravelles' shoes as they attempted to parent 11 adopted children.

"They begged for help. They begged for respite care," said Ken Myers, attorney for Sharen Gravelle.

Prosecutor Russ Leffler told the jurors about one of the younger children, who is stricken with a terminal disease. He's "a little guy who's very fragile," Leffler said.

The child was made to stay in his enclosed bed, not only at night, but also sometimes during the day, similarly to several of his siblings, as a means of punishment, Leffler said.

"No wonder (the young adopted son) has nightmares about the Gravelles," Leffler said.

"What offense did the angelic (child) commit to deserve that treatment?" questioned Leffler of the jurors. "What else is he supposed to internalize except the world is a terribly cruel place."

The state maintains the Gravelles forced some of the children to stay in enclosed beds, or "cages," for sometimes three or four days a week.

"The Gravelles are charged on a long series of things, but chiefly these boxed things," Leffler said.

Closing arguments took up most of the day before Judge Earl McGimpsey turned the case over to the seven-man, five-woman jury at about 2:30 p.m.

Leffler urged the jury to find the couple individually guilty of eight felony child endangering charges and 16 misdemeanor child endangering charges.

"Whether you do the strange mental gymnastics to justify what the Gravelles did is up to you," Leffler said.

Defense attorney Ken Myers urged the jury to disregard any knowledge of parenting before beginning to deliberate about the case.

"Walk a mile in (the Gravelles') shoes. ... In order to evaluate this case you kind of have to throw out everything you know about parenting," Myers said. "This is not normal parenting. They did extraordinary things to control extraordinary behaviors.

"The Gravelles aren't perfect. ... They took on a nearly impossible task," he said.

"(The Gravelles) did the best they could under the circumstances," said defense attorney Richard Drucker. "They had a lot of children on their hands."

Myers described troublesome behaviors of the children, which included urinating and defecating throughout the couple's Clarksfield Township home.

"This is behavior so severe the experts didn't even know how to handle it," said Myers. "Under the circumstances, there was nothing wrong with the beds."

Leffler maintained that one child was considered "a monster" by the Gravelles.

"Did he seem so when he testified? Did he seem so to the Western Reserve School? No," Leffler said. "These frightful behaviors are all allegations by Sharen Gravelle," he said, adding no one else saw these behaviors.

"The Gravelles aren't good parents and they never have been," Leffler said.

Some of the child endangering charges were filed in connection with a child who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. The Gravelles are accused of shoving rags and socks into her mouth and slapping her mouth when her jaw slacked, Leffler said.

"What does the Gravelles' treatment of (the child with Down syndrome) tell you about them?" Leffler asked the jury.

The defense denies the Gravelles mistreated the children. The children remain in foster care where they were placed after being removed in September 2005 from the Gravelle home. The Huron County Juvenile Court stripped the Gravelles of their parenting rights in March. The Gravelles are appealing that decision.

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