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'Justice was served'

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:45 PM

Huron County Sheriff's Deputy Joe Leroux barricaded the horde of reporters from Michael and Sharen Gravelle as they rushed out of the Huron County Common Pleas Courtroom late Friday morning.

"The Gravelles have no comment right now," Sharen's defense attorney, Ken Myers, said before he and Leroux escorted them to the couple's vehicle on Seminary Street.

Moments earlier, Michael, 57, and Sharen, 58, of 2330 St. John Road, learned a jury found them guilty of four counts of child endangerment, third-degree felonies; five counts of child abuse and two counts of child endangerment, both first-degree misdemeanors. They will be sentenced Feb. 12.

The couple kept some of their 11 special needs children in bunk beds that resembled cages for sleeping and punishment and administered what many witnesses considered harsh discipline.

The youngsters have been in multiple foster homes since being removed from the Gravelles' rural Wakeman home Sept. 9, 2005.

"It was a long time coming, but I think justice was served," said Margaret Kern, the court-appointed special advocate for the children. "I think the jurors did a tremendous job. They had a lot of information to process."

Berlin Heights foster mother Debbie Nottke was pleased with the jury's verdict. One of the boys has been with Nottke's family for 15 months.

"This is the best Christmas gift these kids could have gotten," Nottke said.

Her foster son has been busy with sports and hasn't been following the trial in the media, she said, but has been wondering what took the jury so long to reach a verdict.

The jurors started deliberating about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and spent 2 1/2 days making their decision, which was announced at about 11:20 Friday morning.

"He's going to be very happy," Nottke said. "We're not foster-to-adopt (parents), but we'd like to keep (him) forever."

Huron County Assistant Public Defender Doug Clifford, who represented the children in the earlier custody case, called Friday "a great day for these kids."

"I think it's a great day for kids in general. They have the right to be treated as human beings and not as property," Clifford said.

"I feel terrible," Myers said at the beginning of the press conference with Michael Gravelle's defense attorney Richard Drucker. "I don't think the Gravelles were guilty of any criminal offenses."

Myers affirmed what he said in his closing arguments Tuesday, that the "well intentioned" couple did the best they could in "extraordinary circumstances."

The Gravelles have said they used the enclosed beds to prevent some of the 11 children from wandering at night, keep some of them from eating nonfood items and for punishment for bed wetting and other domestic violations.

Myers said the verdict made it obvious the jurors disagreed with the way the Gravelles handled the children. However, he contended the guilty/not guilty breakdown makes it difficult to determine whether the jurors disagreed with the discipline or sleeping arrangements.

Jurors did not speak with the press after the verdict was announced.

The Gravelles, accused of beating and hosing down the children, were acquitted of four counts of endangerment, third-degree felonies; six counts of child endangerment, first-degree misdemeanors; and three charges of child abuse, also first-degree misdemeanors.

"It's not a down the line condemnation of the cages," Myers said.

Asked how the Gravelles might be feeling, the attorney said despite "a whole host of charges (being) thrown out ... I'm sure they're disappointed."

Huron County Assistant Prosecutor Daivia Kasper represented the state at Friday's hearing because Prosecutor Russell Leffler was on vacation. Kasper, in a statement, wrote that prosecutors were "pleased with the jury's decisions."

"The jurors carefully considered three weeks of testimony from nearly 50 witnesses and over 100 pieces of evidence. Prosecutor Russell V. Leffler had fought for the children and believed it was the right thing to do," she wrote.

Drucker, who expressed disappointment in the verdict, said he and Myers plan on appealing.

"I think we will be vindicated in the appeal," Drucker added.

The Gravelles each face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each felony, up to six months behind bars and a $1,000 fine on each misdemeanor and community control sanctions.

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