Five of Nathaniel Craver's teachers testify for defense

Date: 2011-09-09

By Elizabeth Evans

Five of Nathaniel Craver's preschool teachers testified on behalf of the defense Friday during his parents' murder trial, saying he always seemed happy to see his mother when she picked him up, and that she always appeared concerned about his welfare.

Those teachers also said while they never saw Nathaniel deliberately try to hurt himself, he was developmentally disabled and often fell, tripped and walked into things.

Amy Zook, director and head teacher at Mountainside Preschool in Dillsburg, recalled Nathaniel as being a fearless climber and jumper who never seemed bothered by injuries.

Didn't cry: "Things did not seem painful to him," she testified. "Seldom did we see him cry."

Michael Craver, 46, and Nanette Craver, 55, both of 36 Blair Mountain Road in Carroll Township, are charged with first- and third-degree murder in the Aug. 25, 2009, death of 7-year-old Nathaniel. The Cravers adopted Nathaniel and his sister from a Russian orphanage when the twins were 18 months old.

The prosecution maintains Nathaniel suffered numerous severe injuries all over his body, and died of complications due to traumatic brain injury, with failure-to-thrive (or starvation), contributing to the death.

The Cravers maintain Nathaniel intentionally caused his own injuries; prosecutors maintain his parents are at fault.

Trial is scheduled to resume Monday morning.

Defense begins: During his opening statement Friday, defense attorney Gerald Lord -- representing Nanette Craver -- told jurors numerous doctors and expert witnesses will testify Nathaniel could have caused his own fatal injuries, and that he suffered from numerous conditions including fetal alcohol syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and reactive-attachment disorder.

"Nathaniel entered this country with severe brain damage," Lord said; he was born premature and suffered severe neglect at the Russian hospital and orphanage where he spent the first 18 months of his life.

Lord also said that friends of the Cravers will testify they saw Nathaniel injuring himself, including banging his head against objects and bumping into things.

"Nathaniel Craver had an all-too-painful, short life," Lord said, but his parents did not kill him and took extensive steps to get him help.

Lord gave his opening statement after the prosecution rested its case Friday morning.

Motion to dismiss: But before he did, attorney Rick Robinson, who also represents Nanette Craver, asked that the first-degree murder charge against his client be dismissed.

Clasina Mahoney, who is jointly representing Michael Craver with fellow attorneys Suzanne Smith and Ron Jackson Jr., asked the same thing for her client. The attorneys argued the prosecution had not presented enough evidence for the charge to remain.

Common Pleas Judge John S. Kennedy denied the motion, noting the prosecution has made a circumstantial case.

Chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker called two witnesses Friday morning -- Michael Craver's parents, Robert and Sandra Craver of Berwick, who said they last visited with Nathaniel at his home in May, about three months before his death.

'Concerned': "I was very concerned about his condition," Robert Craver testified. "His eyes were swollen shut. His head seemed a little larger than normal."

He confirmed he didn't call police or take Nathaniel to the hospital, and said he heard his son tell Nathaniel, "You're not going to do this again to yourself."

Robert Craver also said he suggested getting Nathaniel out of the family home, but his son disagreed.

"Michael said, 'This is his home, this is where he belongs,'" Robert Craver recalled.

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