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Gravelles lose appeal in juvenile court case

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:50 PM

Huron County Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Cardwell made the correct rulings in the caged children case that's what the judges in the 6th District Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

The ruling affirms Cardwell's Dec. 22, 2005 judgment that eight of the 11 adopted Clarksfield Township children were abused and all 11 children were dependent. The decision by Judges Peter Handwork, Mark Pietrykowski and Thomas Osowik also supported Cardwell's March 20, 2006 decision to give permanent custody of the children to the Huron County Department of Job and Family Services (HCDJFS).

All the children have been in various foster homes since HCDJFS social worker Jo Johnson and members of the Huron County Sheriff's Office removed them from the home of Michael and Sharen Gravelle on Sept. 9, 2005. The removal was based on evidence the Gravelles had used cage-like structures built around bunk beds as both punishment and sleeping quarters for the youngsters.

"I'm very pleased with the strength of the decision," Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler said.

He called the appeal "thorough" by going point by point in addressing the case. Leffler also said it was obvious the judges "weren't too impressed with the Gravelles."

"He was very firm on this," the prosecutor said, referring to the presiding judge.

Ken Myers, the couple's defense attorney, had argued that the state's three expert witnesses Drs. William Benninger, Keith Hughes and Ronald Hughes couldn't testify if the cages constituted abuse. Myers couldn't be reached for comment.

The appeals judges described the three witnesses as "imminently qualified psychologists with vast experience and training in child psychology." They noted that Myers "never challenged the witnesses' qualifications."

The psychologists' testimony, the judges continued, assisted Cardwell "in understanding how isolation and the use of cages and alarms likely affected the children and therefore assisted the court in determining whether the children were abused and/or dependent."

Later in the ruling, the judges wrote that, it was "evident" that Cardwell looked "to these experts to help (him) determine the likelihood of future abuse to the children should they be returned" to the Gravelles.

Both of the Gravelles have a two-year prison term hanging over their heads from a related criminal trial in which they were found guilty of multiple counts of child endangerment and child abuse. In mid-February, Huron County Common Pleas Judge Earl McGimpsey ruled to postpone the Gravelles going to prison so that Myers could file an appeal.

Sharen Gravelle, during the Feb. 15 sentencing hearing, told McGimpsey she didn't know what to do with the children. She also said she "would have listened" to professionals' advice if county officials told her using the cages was "wrong."

Michael Gravelle, in the same hearing, said he never intended to abuse his 11 adopted children whom he and his wife felt called by God to adopt.

"I didn't know how to handle it," he said. "Their behavior was so destructive."

Leffler has not talked to any of the children, but said he was sure "they would be very happy" with Cardwell's decisions being upheld.

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