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Timeline of the infamous 'caged kids' case

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:48 PM

2001 and 2002 Clarksfield Township resident Laura Oney reportedly files abuse complaints against Michael and Sharen Gravelle with the Huron County Department of Job & Family Services (HCDJFS).

October 2003 Carlyle Smith of respite care company Comfort Keepers visits the Gravelles' home. He meets with several HCDJFS officials Oct. 28, expressing concerns about Sharen making racial slurs toward her black, adopted children. Smith also mentions the existence of cage-like structures built around some of the bunk beds. The agency takes no action.

About Aug. 7, 2005 Insurance agent Ed Clunk tells social worker Jo Johnson he saw the cages in the Gravelles' home during a 2004 sales visit. Johnson begins coordinating an investigation with Huron County Sheriff's Lt. Randy Sommers, the officer in charge of juvenile cases.

Sept. 9, 2005 Johnson and sheriff's deputies use a search warrant to remove 11 adopted children from the Gravelles' home and place them in foster homes.

Sept. 12, 2005 The Norwalk Reflector becomes the first newspaper in the country to published the "caged kids" story. The story is based on a report released that day by Sommers and interviews with the deputy and Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler. Area papers, plus the USA Today and the Plain Dealer, release subsequent stories in the following days. News outlets throughout the world carry the story.

Sept. 13, 2005 Sheriff Richard Sutherland holds a press conference in front of his agency.

Sept. 15, 2005 The public sees the so-called cages through photos obtained by the New York Post.

Mid-September 2005 The Gravelles hire Westlake attorney David Sherman to defend them. His subsequent statements to the press generally come through mass e-mails.

Sept. 19, 2005 Leffler and HCDJFS release separate prepared statements about the case. The prosecutor met with deputies beforehand. Huron County Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Cardwell orders adoption subsidies and Social Security benefits redirected from the Gravelles to the children.

Sept. 23, 2005 Two of the Michael Gravelle's biological children, Jenna and Jesse, tell the Associated Press they are shocked about the cage allegations. Jenna accuses her father of inappropriately touching her. Michael and Sharen Gravelle see with the children during a HCDJFS-supervised visit, the first of several.

Oct. 3, 2005 People magazine publishes a story with a photo of one of the cages and one of the boys. The magazine publishes a story about the criminal trial Dec. 18, 2006.

Oct. 9, 2005 The Plain Dealer publishes a story with photos of the Gravelles' home life provided by the couple's attorney. The Gravelles appear in Huron County Juvenile Court for a hearing.

Mid-October 2005 Cardwell meets with the media about guidelines for covering the Dec. 6 adjudicatory juvenile court hearing. On Nov. 23, the judge prohibits reporters from disclosing the names or ages of the children.

Oct. 18, 2005 The Cradle, an Illinois adoption agency, files a request for custody of the youngest girl because the Gravelles' adoption is not final. Cardwell denies the motion in mid-November.

Oct. 21, 2005 The Reflector runs the first of a series of monthly stories attempting to determine if Leffler has presented the "caged kids case" to a Huron County grand jury.

Late October 2005 Sherman quits as the Gravelles' defense attorney. The couple hire former reporter Ken Myers as their attorney soon afterwards.

Mid-November 2005 Cardwell denies Myers' motion to have the 11 children immediately returned to the Gravelles. The lawyer for the children's former social worker, Elaine Thompson, says Leffler threatened Thompson with being indicted in connection with failing to report child abuse.

Nov. 15, 2005 Three members of the Reflector staff tour the Gravelles' home with Myers and the couple.

Nov. 30, 2005 Gov. Bob Taft cites the Gravelle case in suggesting adoption agencies perform a special assessment of homes where a pending adoption would mean more than five adopted children would live there.

Early December 2005 Myers publicly challenges Leffler to have the Gravelles indicted or drop the case.

Dec. 6, 2005 Testimony in the adjudicatory hearing begins. Huron County Juvenile Prosecutor Jennifer DeLand represents the state. Investigators Sommers and Johnson take the stand for several hours each over the next two days.

Dec. 8, 2005 One of the boys testifies for about 2 1/2 hours.

Dec. 9, 2005 Thompson testifies and defends the therapeutic use of the cages. Testimony ends Dec. 11.

Dec. 22, 2005 Cardwell rules that eight of the children were abused and 11 were dependent, meaning the state saw enough in the home environment to intervene.

January 2006 The Gravelles dismantle and remove the cages from their home.

Jan. 18, 2006 Cardwell rules that two of the girls will be allowed extra supervised visits.

Feb. 3, 2006 Leffler presents the Gravelle case to a grand jury.

Feb. 14, 2006 The Huron County Clerk of Courts releases the indictments on Gravelles: 16 counts of child endangerment, third-degree felonies, plus eight counts of child endangerment, and five counts of falsification, all first-degree misdemeanors. Thompson, the couple's former therapist for the children, also is indicted on 16 counts of complicity to child endangerment, third-degree felonies, plus eight counts each of complicity child endangerment and failure to report child abuse, all fourth-degree misdemeanors.

Feb. 22, 2006 The disposition or custody phase of the juvenile court hearings begins. Jesse and Jenna Gravelle testify, describing a "prison-like" home life. Before the hearing, Michael and Sharen Gravelle enter "not guilty" pleas to the criminal charges in Huron County Common Pleas Court.

Feb. 28, 2006 Thompson enters "not guilty" pleas to the criminal charges. The next hearing is Feb. 20, 2007.

March 1, 2006 Sharen Gravelle takes the stand in the juvenile court proceedings.

March 19, 2006 After reviewing attorneys' closing written statements, Cardwell grants permanent custody of the children to Huron County. Myers appeals Cardwell's ruling March 29.

March 24, 2006 Michael Gravelle attempts to visit three of the children, now "legal strangers" to him.

May 3, 2006 Michael Gravelle hires Cleveland attorney Richard Drucker to represent him. Myers continues to represent Sharen.

Mid-July 2006 Myers files a motion, claiming the Sept. 9, 2005 search warrant was bogus. The attorney files a motion Sept. 14, 2006 requesting Leffler release various school and medical records for the children.

Late October 2006 Judge Earl McGimpsey eliminates about two-thirds of the 350 people who completed questionnaires from the jury pool. Attorneys begin questioning about 110 potential jurors in person Nov. 14.

Nov. 21, 2006 Opening statements begin. Testimony in the joint criminal trial begins exactly one week later.

Nov. 29, 2006 The first of several of the children testify. Several foster parents also take the stand throughout the trial.

Dec. 15, 2006 McGimpsey reduces eight of the felonies to similar misdemeanors. The judge earlier had dismissed the falsification and perjury charges.

Dec. 19, 2006 After hearing testimony from 50 witnesses, the jury begins deliberating after a half-day of final arguments.

Dec. 22, 2006 The jury, after deliberating for 2 1/2 days, convicts the Gravelles of four felonies and seven misdemeanors. The couple is acquitted of 13 charges.

Early January A Wakeman juror challenges county commissioners to research the ethical responsibilities of HCDJFS in the case. Margaret Kern, the children's court-appointed advocate, blasts the agency during the commissioners' Jan. 4 meeting and claims some HCDJFS workers committed perjury during the trial.

Jan. 29 McGimpsey denies Myers' motions for an acquittal and a new trial.

Monday Three judges from the 6th District Court of Appeals hear arguments on Myers' juvenile court appeal. A decision is expected in about 30 days.

Today The Gravelles are sentenced for being convicted of child endangering.

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