NORWALK, Ohio – Jurors must decide if some of 11 special needs children were forced to sleep in cages for their own protection or because their adoptive parents were cruel.
Jurors in the trial of the parents, Sharen and Michael Gravelle, started day two of deliberations Wednesday morning. They got the case late Tuesday afternoon.
The Gravelles each face eight misdemeanor counts of child abuse, eight felony counts of child endangering and eight misdemeanor counts of child endangering.
Jurors deliberated for about two hours Tuesday before going home for the night.
"Who are you going to believe?" defense attorney Ken Myers asked jurors during closing statements. He said the size of the cages and the number of children who slept in them were exaggerated by authorities investigating the Gravelles.
"They want to paint them like they're the worst parents in the history of the world," he said.
Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler said the cages amounted to cruel treatment.
"They are living like animals in these cages," Leffler told the jurors in his final statement.
Attorney Richard Drucker, representing Michael Gravelle, told the jury there had been no evidence of physical harm to any of the 11 children and only general allegations of abusive treatment during the three-week trial.
"I submit to you that these so-called cages were bunk beds that were enclosed," Drucker said.
The Gravelles tried to create a loving home environment, he said. "They loved their children," Drucker said.
Leffler said although the youngsters were difficult, "it doesn't mean you put children in cages or boxes."
The endangering charges against the Gravelles accuse the couple of putting some of their children at a substantial risk of harming their mental health.
The Gravelles face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each felony count if convicted.
The children, who suffered from problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome and a disorder that involves eating nonfood items, ranged in age from 1 to 14 when authorities removed them in September 2005 from the Gravelle home in rural Wakeman, about 60 miles west of Cleveland. The youngsters were placed in foster care last fall and the couple lost custody in March.
The case began when a county social worker visited the home after a complaint and likened the red and blue cages to kennels. In the trial, that social worker testified that the cages reminded her of slave quarters.
In his closing argument, Leffler said the Gravelles were bad parents and should be convicted.
"They were cruel to children," he said. "The Gravelles aren't good parents. They never have been."
Myers, who represents Sharen Gravelle, told jurors the couple had worked under difficult circumstances to provide a loving family. The enclosures were used because of the children's intolerable behavior, he said.
"They were urinating and defecating all over the house," he said. The children's nighttime wandering and other bad behavior improved after the enclosed beds were used, Myers said.
Myers challenged the credibility of prosecution witnesses, including some of the children.
One child, Myers said, "was just angry at the world." And another claimed without supporting evidence from anyone else that he had been banished to sleep in a bathtub for much of a 2 1/2-year period.
Some children testified about their sadness over missing the only family they ever knew, at points moving jurors to tears. The Gravelles also cried when an adopted daughter testified that she missed her parents and still loved them.
Myers asked the jury to acquit the Gravelles and "send a message it is time for this charade to end."
Judge Earl R. McGimpsey told jurors they must not take into any account that the Gravelles did not testify at their trial.