Neighbor Says Dad Accused of Caging Kids Bragged About Making Money Off Adoptions
NORWALK, Ohio – A man who lived next door to the parents accused of abusing some of their adopted children by making them sleep in cages testified Tuesday that the father said he planned to leave his job because he made enough money adopting youngsters.
Tom Hall said that years ago Michael Gravelle told him, "The children that he had paid pretty good, that he was probably going to quit his job and build an orphanage and get all the children he could."
Hall, testifying at the trial of Michael and Sharen Gravelle, also told the jury that he saw the father hose down one of the children outside in 20-degree weather. Hall said he believes it was because the child had a bathroom accident, but he could not recall which of the 11 children it was or when it occurred.
The couple is charged with 16 counts of felony child endangering and eight misdemeanor child endangering charges. If convicted, they face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each felony count.
The Gravelles deny abusing the children and have said they had to keep the youngsters in enclosed beds to protect them. The children suffered from problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome and a disorder that involves eating nonfood items.
Laura Oney, another neighbor, testified that she reported the couple to the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services, which oversees adoption, in 2001 after Michael Gravelle told her one of the children was sleeping in a bathtub with only a blanket and a pillow. She said she reported the Gravelles again in 2002 after seeing Sharen Gravelle hit a child across the back of the legs with a sawed-off broomstick.
The Gravelles have said one child slept in the bathtub to help solve a bed wetting problem.
The children ranged from age 1 to 14 when authorities removed them from the rural home about 60 miles west of Cleveland. The youngsters were placed in foster care last fall, and the couple lost custody in March.
On cross examination, Hall said seeing the child being hosed was "one of those things that sticks in your mind." But he said he did not report the incident to authorities.
Hall told defense attorney Ken Myers that most of the time he saw the children playing on the swing set in their yard and they appeared normal.
After the Gravelles built an addition on to their home for the children, Hall testified that his mind went back to Michael Gravelle's orphanage plans.
"Wow, he did what he said he was going to do," Hall said he thought.
Brenda Conley, a foster mother now caring for one of the Gravelle children, said the boy wet his bed every night when he first joined her home in November but later stopped. She said he started again, though, after a prosecutor preparing for the case showed him pictures of the cages where children were made to sleep.