NORWALK, Ohio – The woman accused of locking some of her 11 adopted, special-needs children in cages cried on the witness stand Wednesday as she denied that she and her husband were cruel to his biological children or that he touched a daughter inappropriately.
Sharen and Michael Gravelle have pleaded not guilty to several charges, including child endangerment, in a separate criminal case.
Prosecutors accuse the couple of locking the adopted children in cages to discipline them, and they want Huron County to take permanent custody of the youngsters, who have been in foster care since the enclosed beds were discovered last fall.
The Gravelles are fighting to regain custody. They deny abusing their adopted children, ages 1 to 15. They say beds enclosed with wood and wire and equipped with alarms were necessary to protect the youngsters, who suffered from various psychological and behavioral problems.
The Gravelles' attorney, Ken Myers, asked Sharen Gravelle if she understood that testifying in the custody hearing was risky because anything she said could be used against her in her criminal trial, set for Sept. 12.
Gravelle, 57, said she did, and when asked why she took the stand anyway she lowered her head and cried for several moments before composing herself.
"Because I've been accused of some things," she said. "I've been accused that I put myself before my children and I owe my children the fight, at whatever risk to me."
Two of Michael Gravelle's biological children, Jenna and Jesse Gravelle, have testified that their father inappropriately touched Jenna when she was a minor.
Michael Gravelle denies that accusation.
"I believe that he had an inappropriate thought that he never acted upon," Sharen Gravelle testified Wednesday.
Sharen Gravelle said their merged families — her husband's three biological children and her two — got along fine except for typical teenage fights over the one working bathroom.
She denied accusations by Michael Gravelle's children that the couple provided little food for their biological children.
"Supper was almost always cooked and if they weren't home, supper was left," she said.
The Gravelles began adopting shortly after they moved to Wakeman in 1992 after their children had grown up and moved out.
The couple were charged with child endangerment, falsifying adoption applications and lying under oath when being qualified for adoption funding. If convicted, they would face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each of the 16 counts of felony child endangering.