YORK, Pa. – A central Pennsylvania couple went on trial Tuesday for the death of their 7-year-old adopted son from Russia as the prosecutor sought to blame parental abuse and the defense insisted that the troubled child inflicted his own injuries.
The case helped focus national attention on foreign adoptions at a time when Russia is demanding a larger role in the adoption of its children by U.S. families. Russia has complained for years of child abuse by adoptive parents in America.
In opening statements, a lawyer for Michael and Nanette Craver told a York County jury that Nathaniel Craver suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and reactive detachment disorder that caused him to injure himself.
First Assistant Public Defender Clasina Mahoney said the Cravers, who adopted Nathaniel and his twin sister from a Russian orphanage in 2003, had repeatedly sought medical help for Nathaniel in the years before his August 2009 death.
Tim Barker, the first assistant district attorney, charged that the Cravers abused and neglected Nathaniel. Barker described a litany of injuries that the boy suffered before he died of blunt force trauma, according to The York Dispatch.
"His head felt, to me, like a wet sponge," said Christopher Penney, an emergency nurse at Holy Spirit Hospital in Camp Hill who testified that the boy had "bruises in all stages."
Nathaniel was later transferred to Hershey Medical Center, where Dr. Mark Iantosca opened his skull to relieve pressure on the brain, but the child never regained consciousness, the York Daily Record reported.
Iantosca, a pediatric neurosurgeon, testified that the injuries could have been caused — as the parents have maintained — by the boy throwing himself headfirst against a wood-burning stove the night before he was found breathing but unresponsive in his bed. But the doctor said the injuries also could have resulted from being struck.
Michael Craver, 46, and Nanette Craver, 55, have been held without bail since they were arrested in February 2010 after an autopsy revealed Nathaniel had about 80 external injuries, including 20 to his head. They face charges including criminal homicide and endangerment.
The death has been monitored by officials in Russia, which in July signed a treaty giving it more authority to monitor adopted children after they arrive in the United States.
Several years of Russian complaints about adopted children being abused in the United States reached a climax last year, when a Tennessee woman sent her adopted 7-year-old back to Moscow, unaccompanied on a plane, saying she did not want to raise him anymore because the child had psychological problems.
Russia threatened to — but did not — suspend adoptions to the United States. The deal that the two countries negotiated requires authorization for adoption agencies to operate in Russia, unless a child is being adopted by relatives.
The treaty entitles prospective parents to better information about the child's social and medical history. But the new home is subject to monitoring, with periodic visits from a social worker and reports to Russian authorities about the child's development.