CLEVELAND – The father suspected of keeping some of 11 special-needs adopted children in cages says he confined them only to keep them safe and showed off damage to his home he says they caused.
"I felt terrible about it," Michael Gravelle (search) told a reporter and photographer for The Plain Dealer during a tour of his home Sunday. "But it's necessary."
The children were removed from the home last month and sent to foster homes while the adoptions are investigated. The parents have not been charged, and custody hearings are scheduled in the widely publicized case.
The couple previously has not let reporters into their home, about 60 miles southwest of Cleveland near Wakeman. Michael Gravelle said he was tired of his wife, Sharen, being labeled "world's most evil mother."
The Gravelles say they were adopting children nobody else wanted, who had problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome (search), autism (search), HIV and pica, an eating disorder that causes children to eat dirt and rocks.
The enclosures where the children slept are about 6 feet in length. The doors could be opened easily and had no locks on them, but a battery-powered alarm would go off when the doors opened, the newspaper said.
They were used as sleeping quarters to prevent the children from hurting themselves with glass or eating medicines, Michael Gravelle said. Every cupboard and shelf was covered with chicken wire for the same reason, he said.
"If you can call these cages, take me to jail right now," Michael Gravelle said. "Right now."
The couple pointed out holes where they said the children had kicked in the walls and gouges in the drywall from their fingernails. Baseboards were soaked with urine stains, and the walls still show marks where the children had smeared their feces.
"We live with this smell," said Sharen Gravelle, who at times broke down in tears. "We love these children."
Prosecutor Russ Leffler alleges that the Gravelles were adopting the children for financial gain. Records show they received $4,265 monthly in adoption subsidies and disability payments when they had eight children in 2001.
"You could not pay me enough to do the things we had to do," Michael Gravelle said. "There is nothing easy about raising these children. We did not abuse them. That's the truth."
The couple's lawer, David Sherman, was not aware of Sunday's tour, the newspaper said.