Couple loses custody in 'caged' kids' case

Date: 2006-03-21

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

"They certainly want to have a chance to say goodbye ... for now," he said.

Myers has asked the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services to grant another visitation, and if denied, he will petition the court, he said.

The couple will appeal the court's decision, based on the "harsh" action in Cardwell's ruling, Myers said.

"I was disappointed. I had dared to hope that the judge would give it more time before imposing the death penalty, but he didn't," Myers said.

The deadline to file a notice of appeal is 30 days, Myers said.

Cardwell "had other options that he could have taken," Myers said in reference to his suggestion that the couple be allowed more visitations with the children and be given the same subsidies and counseling options as foster families who are now caring for the children.

The Gravelles are "disappointed" but "surprisingly upbeat," according to Myers.

The Gravelles issued a statement yesterday afternoon saying, "We are very saddened by the court's ruling. We love our children and we will continue to fight to have them returned to us. We look forward to having this matter heard in another forum. We will have no further comment."

Some of the children, ages 2 to 15, were sleeping in bunk beds enclosed with chicken wire and wooden slats, which were discovered in September during a joint investigation of the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services and the sheriff's office. The children were removed from the home and placed in various foster homes, where they have remained while the matter was investigated.

In the ruling Cardwell issued yesterday, he wrote, "The Gravelles have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate an unwillingness to prevent the children from suffering physical, emotional and sexual abuse." Cardwell added that the likelihood for reoccurrence of the same treatment is high.

Cardwell's decision was based on a number of factors, including statements made by Sharen Gravelle when she testified earlier this month during the custody hearing, he wrote.

"It was obvious that Mrs. Gravelle still does not see the harm the children suffered in her household. Mrs. Gravelle also admitted to many inaccuracies in a home study affidavit she signed. ... Either Mrs. Gravelle purposefully lied on a statement under oath or she was extremely nonchalant about the accuracy of the information she was providing for a home study that would permit her to adopt children. Either of these scenarios is troubling to the court and certainly reflects adversely on Mrs. Gravelle's credibility," Cardwell wrote.

The Gravelles were indicted by the Huron County grand jury last month for the alleged false statements made during the adoption process and on multiple child endangering charges, according to the Huron County Prosecutor's Office and court records.

Other factors that played a part in the decision included documents from the Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services, testimony from Michael Gravelle's biological children, one of whom claimed Michael Gravelle sexually molested her, and testimony from mental health professionals who evaluated the children, according to the ruling.

"The court heard extensive evidence dealing with the failures of this family," said Huron County Prosecutor Russ Leffler.

"The court's decision awarding permanent custody is well reasoned and in the best interests of the children. This allows the children to be placed with good adoptive families which I know everyone wants for these children," Leffler stated.

Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer DeLand, who represented the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services, said she is "very satisfied" with the ruling and will now focus on finding permanent homes for the children.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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