Former Babysitter for Ohio Family Says Children Not Abused, Enclosed Beds Needed

Attorneys representing a couple accused of endangering some of their 11 adopted special-needs children by caging them said they have two or three more witnesses to call before wrapping up their defense.

Attorneys for Michael and Sharen Gravelle said they planned to pick up Thursday where they left off Wednesday, when they showed jurors a video tour of the Gravelles' Wakeman home and offered supportive testimony from a former baby sitter.

Jurors put aside their note-taking pencils and watched the grainy, four-minute DVD stamped with the date Nov. 22, 2005, more than two months after the children were removed from the home.

In the video, a smiling girl -- an 11-year-old granddaughter of a Gravelle family friend -- climbed into each enclosed sleeping area, opening and closing the gates behind her.

The sleeping areas had stuffed animals, thick comforters and mattresses, in contrast to earlier testimony from investigators that some bunks lacked bedding.

Prosecutor Russell Leffler objected to showing jurors the videos, calling it a staged production.

The DVD showed a cat playfully jumping on one bunk and pets closed in a wire car carrier.

The first defense witness was Cynthia Hay of Vermilion, who cared for about five of the children on Sunday afternoons from January to June 2003 while working for a respite care agency. She testified that the video accurately reflected what she had seen.

She said she understood the need for the enclosed beds.

"I understand special needs children," she testified. "This was more protection for children and I understand that."

Hay described a loving Gravelle family home in which Sharen nuzzled the children and Michael gently wrestled with them.

When the children went out, Hay testified they would say, "I love you, Mom and Dad."

Under cross examination by Leffler, Hay testified she smelled urine in the upstairs sleeping area. She testified she had never seen evidence of abuse and would have reported any abuse to police.

The Gravelles, who lost custody of the children in March, are charged with 16 counts of felony child endangering and eight misdemeanor child endangering counts. If convicted, they face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each felony count.

The couple say they built enclosures to keep the children from harming themselves and each other and stop their night wanderings. They deny abusing the children.

Also Wednesday, defense attorneys asked Huron County Common Pleas Judge Earl R. McGimpsey to throw out the charges on grounds that the state failed to show the children suffered physical or emotional harm.

McGimpsey denied the motion.

The case could be in the hands of jurors as soon as Thursday if testimony ends and lawyers complete closing arguments.