A man who lived next door to parents accused of abusing some of their adopted children by making them sleep in cages claims the father had planned to leave his job because he made enough money by adopting.

Tom Hall told a US court yesterday that Michael Gravelle told him years ago: “The children that he had paid pretty good, that he was probably going to quit his job and build an orphanage and get all the children he could.”

Mr Hall, testifying at the trial in Ohio of Michael and Sharen Gravelle, also told the jury that he saw the father hose down one of the children outside in 6-7 degree Celsius weather. Mr Hall said he believes it was because the child had a bathroom accident, but he could not recall which of the 11 children it was or when it occurred.

The children ranged in age from 1 to 14 when authorities removed them from the rural home about 60 miles west of Cleveland. The youngsters were placed in foster care last autumn, and the couple lost custody in March.

The children suffered from problems such as foetal alcohol syndrome and a disorder that involves eating non-food items.

The couple is charged with a total of 24 counts of child endangering charges. If convicted, they face one to five years in prison and fines.

The Gravelles deny abusing the children and have said they had to keep the youngsters in enclosed beds to protect them.

Laura Oney, another neighbour, testified that she reported the couple to local family services which oversee adoption in 2001, after Michael Gravelle told her one of the children was sleeping in a bathtub with only a blanket and a pillow. She said she reported the Gravelles again in 2002 after allegedly seeing Sharen Gravelle hit a child across the back of the legs with a sawn-off broomstick.

The Gravelles have said one child slept in the bath to help solve a bed wetting problem.

On cross examination, Mr Hall said seeing the child being hosed was “one of those things that sticks in your mind.” But he said he did not report the incident to authorities.

Hall told defence lawyer Ken Myers that he often saw the children playing on the swings in their yard and they appeared normal.

After the Gravelles built an addition on to their home for the children, Mr Hall testified that he suspected it was linked to Michael Gravelle's orphanage plans.

Brenda Conley, a foster mother now caring for one of the Gravelle children, said the boy wet his bed every night when he first joined her home in November but later stopped. She said he started again, though, after a prosecutor preparing for the case showed him pictures of the cages where children were allegedly forced to sleep.

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