Adoptive parents on trial for confining their 11 children in cages and boxes

A jury began considering whether the adoptive parents of 11 special-needs children committed a crime by confining some of them in wire and wooden cages at night.

Sharen and Michael Gravelle are charged with eight counts each of felony child endangering, misdemeanor child abuse and misdemeanor child endangering. The endangering charges accuse the couple of putting the children at a substantial risk of mental health impairment.

Defense attorneys described the couple as working under difficult circumstances to provide a loving family environment. "They loved their children," said Richard Drucker, an attorney for Michael Gravelle.

But Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler argued that having difficult children "doesn't mean you put children in cages or boxes."

"They were cruel to children," Leffler said. "The Gravelles aren't good parents. They never have been."

The children, who had problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome and a disorder that involves eating items that are not food, ranged in age from 1 to 14 when authorities removed them in September 2005 from the Gravelle home in rural Wakeman, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Cleveland. The youngsters were placed in foster care last fall, and the couple lost custody in March.

The case began when a county social worker visited the home after a complaint and likened the red and blue cages to kennels. In the trial, that social worker testified that the cages reminded her of slave quarters, the AP says.

Ken Myers, an attorney for Sharen Gravelle, said wire and wooden enclosures were used because of intolerable behavior by the children. The behavior improved after the enclosures were used, Myers said.

"They were urinating and defecating all over the house," he said.

Sharen Gravelle shook her head as the prosecutor spoke. Michael Gravelle leaned back holding his chin in his hand.

The Gravelles, who lost custody of the children in March, face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 (EUR7,600) for each felony count if convicted.

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