Disorder led boy to cause own death, Cravers say
BY LARA BRENCKLE
Nathaniel Craver caused his own death by repeatedly hurting himself, according to the 7-year-old's adoptive parents, who could face the death penalty if they are convicted of fatally beating the boy.
In motions filed this week, Michael and Nanette Craver are again claiming Nathaniel had been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder -- a complex collection of symptoms that includes a tendency to self-injure.
Prosecutors are pointing to the laundry list of injuries they say the boy suffered -- including more than 20 injuries to Nathaniel's head -- as showing he was tortured, which is one of the factors that allows them to seek capital punishment.
In asking the court to dismiss first- and third-degree homicide charges against them and take the threat of the death penalty off the table, attorneys for the Cravers said their clients tried to get help for the boy they adopted from Russia.
One expert, who works extensively with some of the nation's most troubled children, said it is possible Nathaniel unwittingly injured himself to the point of death.
Dr. Ron Federici, a developmental neuropsychologist from Virginia and the author of "Help for the Hopeless Child," has worked on almost all of the fatal Russian adoption cases in the United States.
"I've had a kid who chewed his hand off," Federici said. "I had a kid who poked an eye out. Kids who cut themselves with no pain. Is it possible he injured himself? Is it possible [he] had attachment disorder? I couldn't say. It'd be highly speculative without a thorough evaluation of his entire development."
Any problems that Nathaniel might have had on a neuro-biological level would also have to be considered alongside his experiences in the Craver household, Federici said.
Police said Michael Craver drove his son to Holy Spirit Hospital in East Pennsboro Twp. when he found him unresponsive in his bed on the morning of Aug. 20, 2009. At the family's direction, Nathaniel was taken off of life support Aug. 24 and died Aug. 25.
Nathaniel's twin sister, whom the Cravers' adopted at the same time in 2003, was taken from the couple after their arrest in February and is in a safe place, York County authorities have said. The Cravers have been in jail, held without bail, since their arrest.
Michael Craver's motion laid out a number of doctors and specialists the family consulted in the past two years. Federici said RAD never exists by itself. There are "layers and layers and layers" of associated problems and RAD is only a symptom of a much larger and deeper disturbance.
Dr. Wayne K. Ross, at a preliminary hearing in April, testified, "In my opinion, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, the patterns [of injury] are inconsistent with self-abuse."
A thick scar, indicating significant brain injury, spanned beneath the boy's skull, Ross testified. Nathaniel's wrists and ankles showing bruising, a possible indication he was bound before he died, Ross testified. In all, he was on the receiving end of weeks and weeks and weeks of trauma before his death, possibly by being hit repeatedly against a flat, firm surface, he said during the preliminary hearing.
Michael Craver's motion pointed out, however, that at the hearing, Ross "could not exclude the possibility that the traumatic brain injury was caused by self-infliction."
Due to what they characterized as "sensationalized and inflammatory coverage" in the local media, the defense also requested change of venue or that a jury from outside York County hear the case.
Nanette Cravers' motions also requested that the jury not be shown Nathaniel's autopsy photos, calling them inflammatory.
Prosecutors will have the chance to respond to the motions. A call to York County First Deputy Prosecutor Tim Barker was not returned.