Cindy Hay worked for Comfort Keepers as a respite caregiver to some of Michael and Sharen Gravelle's 11 adopted children from January to June 2003, she testified in the Huron County Common Pleas Court yesterday.
While Hay baby-sat the children, the Gravelles would "take a break," which usually included a shopping trip, often taking a few of the children with them, Hay said.
"I never saw any abuse," she said.
Instead, Hay said she remembered seeing children hugging Michael Gravelle and affectionately wrestling with him.
As far as Sharen Gravelle, Hay recalled seeing her comb the girls' hair and "snuggling" with them, she said.
The enclosed boxes or "cages" that spurred an investigation and resulted in the removal of the 11 youngsters never bothered Hay, she added.
"I understood special-needs children, and I understood it was for their protection. I didn't have a problem with it," Hay said.
Last week, Carlyle Smith, another former Comfort Keeper employee, testified that the treatment the children received in the home and the enclosed boxes offended him. He testified that he reported the Gravelles to the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services for child abuse after he visited their home.
Hay referred to the children's sleeping quarters as "wooden framed beds," not cages, during her testimony.
The Gravelles are charged with 24 counts of child endangering. If convicted, they face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each of the 16 felony counts against them.
Hay was the first witness called by the defense team, which began its case yesterday morning.
The state rested its case this week after nine days of testimony.
After the court turned the case over to the defense, attorneys Ken Myers, who represents Sharen Gravelle, and Richard Drucker, who is defending Michael Gravelle, asked the judge to dismiss all charges against the couple. They based their argument on a variety of reasons, but mainly argued that the state's case against the Gravelles wasn't strong enough due to the lack of evidence of harm to the children.
Drucker reserved his opening statement for today before the defense started calling its witnesses.
"(The Gravelles) were in a bad situation. They were calling out for help," said Drucker. "They sought out professional help and they listened to the professionals. There was no intent to abuse, mentally harm or physically harm these kids."
Proceedings resume tomorrow and are expected to last throughout the week, according to officials.