Adoptive mom defends couple's actions

Date: 2006-03-02

HEATHER CHAPIN-FOWLER

"Are you aware that when you take (a child) to doctor's appointments (one of the other children) has to sleep in the bed with (her husband) Michael Gravelle?" asked Huron County Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer DeLand.

"No," said Sharen Gravelle quietly. Earlier in the day as Gravelle described events leading up to the adoption of 11 children, she said of her husband, "He's really good with kids. He's absolutely good with kids."

Gravelle maintains her children have been taken out of her custody to spur a "personal vendetta." The children were removed from the Gravelles' Clarksfield Township home in September after county authorities said some of the children were sleeping in wooden and chicken wire "cages."

Sharen Gravelle, 57, testified for nearly 12 hours yesterday and briefly broke down in tears when her attorney Ken Myers asked her to describe what happened on Sept. 9, the day the 11 adopted children were taken from her home.

Yesterday marked the sixth day of the custody hearing during which the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services is seeking permanent custody of the children.

Michael and Sharen Gravelle were indicted by the Huron County Common Pleas Court last month for 30 counts of charges of child endangering, perjury and falsification in connection to the treatment of the children and inaccuracies in home studies and adoption applications.

During cross-examination, DeLand asked Gravelle whether she had signed a home study in the 1990s concerning one of the first adoptions. Gravelle responded that her and her husband's signatures were on the document.

DeLand said the document indicated the Gravelles reported they had only one biological child, instead of the five children in their blended family. The document also indicated the Gravelles met in church, said DeLand.

Earlier testimony indicated the couple met while attending the STOP program in Lorain County, a sexual abuse counseling program.

The home study also indicated the couple reported they had never been turned down as a foster home applicant, but DeLand read a letter from Lorain County Children Services that turned the family down based on "an extensive" family history.

"You were turned down when you requested to be a foster family in Lorain County in 1995, correct?," asked DeLand.

"We did not apply," said Gravelle.

During a series of questions from DeLand, Gravelle quickly shot back a question concerning an accompanying letter that the prosecutor hadn't mentioned, which paused the proceedings.

Huron County Juvenile Judge Timothy Cardwell interrupted the two and advised Gravelle to answer the questions that were being posed. "(The questions) are coming fast, and I'm not sure what I'm answering," Sharen Gravelle told Cardwell.

A brief recess was ordered to accommodate a closed-door conference between Gravelle and Myers.

The home study also questioned whether the couple had any experience with chemical or substance abuse, said DeLand.

"Were you aware that Michael Gravelle told Catholic Charities in Lorain County that he was addicted to hash and made a living selling hash," asked DeLand.

"No," said Gravelle.

Other inaccuracies that were reported in the home study included information indicating the family had never been investigated by a social services agency, said DeLand.

The Gravelles were investigated for sexual abuse allegations between Michael and Jenna Gravelle, his biological daughter, when she was a young girl, according to last week's testimony.

The couple's biological children were a main topic of yesterday's testimony. In particular, then 13-year-old Timothy Gravelle, Michael Gravelle's son, who was taken to a runaway shelter and never returned home took up much of the testimony.

Sharen Gravelle said the family had no other options than to cut ties with Timothy because he was diagnosed with manic depression and possibly schizophrenia and became "extremely violent."

"What exactly did you do at that time to help Tim out before he left your home?" asked Doug Clifford, of the public defender's office who represents the 11 adopted children.

"I tried to be with him and spend time with him, to be a mother to him," said Sharen Gravelle, about her stepson.

"You didn't hire anyone like Elaine Thompson (a social worker and a co-defendant in the criminal case) or another counselor to help him, did you?" asked Clifford.

"I don't recall hiring anyone," said Gravelle.

"You never went to a mental health professional and said Ôhelp my child,' did you?" asked Clifford.

"Yes, when it got bad," said Gravelle.

Another of Michael Gravelle's biological children, Jesse Gravelle, testified last week that it was "the saddest day" of his life, in 1993, when he was instructed by his father to walk Timothy to The Junction, a runaway shelter in Elyria. The family lived in Elyria then.

Sharen Gravelle testified Timothy ran away from the shelter a few days later and was taken to a detention center. "We just felt really helpless. We didn't know what to do with Timothy," said Sharen Gravelle.

The boy spent time in treatment facilities in Berea, where the Gravelles apparently had opportunity to visit him, but opted not to, according to Clifford.

A document dated in 1993 from the Berea's Children Home stated the Gravelles had opportunity to visit Timothy on a monthly basis, but didn't show up for a six-month period, according to Clifford's questioning on the matter.

Sharen Gravelle didn't respond directly to the questions saying the incidents happened too long ago for her to remember.

Four years later, in 1997, the Gravelles began adopting children with a 53-day-old infant from Cleveland, according to her testimony.

The hearing is expected to continue Friday into possibly Saturday, according to the court. Cardwell hasn't announced when his ruling will be made.

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