updated 12/22/2006 12:34:33 PM ET 2006-12-22T17:34:33

A couple accused of forcing some of their 11 adopted special-needs children to sleep in chicken wire cages were convicted Friday of endangerment and abuse.

A jury found both Michael Gravelle, 57, and his wife, Sharen, 58, guilty of four felony counts of child endangering, two misdemeanor counts of child endangering and five misdemeanor counts of child abuse. Each was acquitted of 13 other charges.

The parents argued during their three-week trial that they needed to keep some of the youngsters in enclosed beds rigged with alarms to protect them from themselves and each other and stop them from wandering at night.

The couple face one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each felony count. The misdemeanor penalties carry no jail time.

During the trial, their defense included testimony from a social worker and others who said they never witnessed abuse and said the children’s behavior improved because of the cages, which were painted bright blues and reds.

Prosecutors said the couple was cruel. Witnesses included the sheriff and some of the children who said the cages were urine-stained and lacked bedding, including pillows and mattresses.

Assistant Prosecutor Daivia Kasper said she was satisfied with the verdicts. “I had certainly hoped for felonies on behalf of all the children,” she said.

The Gravelles left the courthouse without commenting.

Couple says no one else wanted kids
The Gravelles have said they took on so many needy children because no one else wanted them. Prosecutors have suggested the couple wanted so many special-needs youngsters because of the adoption and foster care subsidies that accompanied them.

The case prompted the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to increase its oversight of cases where there are multiple special-needs children in one home. The department also established guidelines for agency workers to visit children before adoptions are approved and added staff who make sure records are complete and correct when adoptions cross state lines, as some of the Gravelles’ did.

One Gravelle child testified he was forced to live in a bathroom for 81 days, sleeping in a bathtub because of a bed-wetting problem. The Gravelles’ attorneys denied those charges, saying the boy exaggerated the length of his bathroom stay, and an expert for the defense testified that the technique helped the boy.

Other children testified during the trial that the Gravelles hit them with a wooden paddle, made them write out Bible verses as punishment and dunked the head of a girl who had Down Syndrome in a toilet.

Some of the youngsters testified that they were not forced to sleep in cages and missed their adoptive parents, drawing tears from some jurors.

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