Couple accused in neglect, death of child seek dismissal of charges

Date: 2010-10-19


Represented by separate defense teams, Michael and Nanette Craver, the Carroll Township couple accused in the alleged neglect and beating death of their 7-year-old adopted Russian son, filed similar pre-trial motions in York County court Monday.

Nathaniel Craver died Aug. 25, 2009, at Penn State Hershey Medical Center of complications from traumatic brain injury coupled with a "severe failure to thrive," according to medical testimony at the Cravers' April 29 preliminary hearing.

Both Cravers, who are charged with first-degree and third-degree murder, are seeking dismissal of those charges for lack of evidence, challenging the death penalty, requesting the aggravating circumstance of torture be quashed and arguing against the admission of victim impact statements during the penalty phase.

The defendants contend the commonwealth did not establish a specific intent to kill or any act of malice at their joint preliminary hearing.
Michael Craver's motion to dismiss also alleges that Nathaniel "had been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and that one of the symptoms ... observed ... by his treatment professionals was self-injury."

The defense argues in the father's behalf that the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy "could not exclude the possibility that the traumatic brain injury was caused by self-infliction."

The father also is seeking suppression of a statement he allegedly made in the presence of police and a caseworker at Hershey that "we had a fear that this day would come."

Michael Craver allegedly told authorities the night before Nathaniel was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries that he had struck his head against a wood-pellet stove. He also reportedly said the boy "was under the care of a psychiatrist."

Both parents contend they will be deprived of impartial juries and due process by the commonwealth seeking the death penalty.

The defense teams argue that "substantial social science data" shows that "death qualified" jurors confuse the elements of first-degree murder considered to reach a verdict with the requirement to weigh aggravating and mitigating circumstances to determine the penalty.

Nanette Craver's attorneys argue that case law allows the defense to seek "life qualified" jurors... "who will consider a life sentence under appropriate circumstances."

The defense also maintains the criminal justice system is "fallible" rendering the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment. Nanette Craver's attorneys contend, "the procedures followed in the prosecution and trial of death penalty cases are so inherently arbitrary and capricious that any resulting death penalty is clearly cruel and unusual punishment."

No date has been set for the Cravers' pre-trial hearing. Both remain in York County Prison without bail.


The charges: Michael and Nanette Craver of Carroll Township are charged with first- and third-degree murder, child endangerment and criminal conspiracy in the beating and neglect death of their adopted son, Nathaniel Craver, 7, who died Aug. 25, 2009. They face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder.

The latest: The Cravers filed pre-trial motions Monday in York County Common Pleas Court. In those separate filings they are seeking dismissal of the charges, challenging the death penalty, requesting a change of venue due to publicity, asking that the aggravated circumstance of torture be quashed, requesting separate juries, seeking suppression of autopsy photos at trial, and asking that victim impact statements be barred during the penalty phase.

What's next: The York County District Attorney's Office will be given time to respond to the pre-trial motions. No pre-trial conference date has been set.


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