NORWALK, Ohio – A couple were convicted on Friday of charges that they endangered some of their 11 special-needs adoptive children by forcing them to sleep in cages made of wood and chicken wire.
A jury found Michael Gravelle, 57, and his wife, Sharen, 58, guilty of felony and misdemeanor charges of child endangering and abuse.
The couple had pleaded not guilty. They claimed during the three-week trial they needed to keep some of the youngsters in enclosed beds rigged with alarms to protect them from themselves and each other and stop them from wandering at night.
Each was convicted of four felony counts of child endangering, two misdemeanor counts of child endangering and five misdemeanor counts of child abuse. Each was acquitted of 13 charges.
Deliberations in Huron County Common Pleas Court began Tuesday afternoon.
The couple face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each felony count. The misdemeanor penalties carry no jail time.
During the three-week trial, their defense included testimony from a social worker and others who said they never witnessed abuse and said the children's behavior improved because of the cages, which were painted bright blues and reds.
Prosecutors said the couple was cruel. Witnesses including the sheriff and some of the children who said the cages were urine-stained and lacked bedding, including pillows and mattresses.
One Gravelle child testified he was forced to live in a bathroom for 81 days, sleeping in a bathtub because of a bed-wetting problem. The Gravelles' attorneys denied those charges, saying the boy exaggerated the length of his bathroom stay, and an expert for the defense testified that the technique helped the boy.
Other children testified during the trial that the Gravelles hit them with a wooden paddle, made them write out Bible verses as punishment and dunked the head of a girl who had Down Syndrome in a toilet.
Some of the youngsters testified that they were not forced to sleep in cages and missed their adoptive parents, drawing tears from some jurors.