YORK, Pa. - There’s little debate that pint-sized Nathaniel Craver suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, attachment disorders, and regular injuries after he was adopted from Russia by a Pennsylvania couple.
His parents say they took him to a stream of doctors and therapists because of bizarre, self-abusive behavior that left Nathaniel badly bruised and them at their wit’s end. Then, in August 2009, he suffered a fatal head injury that killed him five days later.
Michael Craver, 47, an engineer and Air Force veteran, and his wife Nanette, 55, were convicted yesterday of involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, and conspiracy. They were acquitted of murder charges.
The Cravers insist their 7-year-old son ran headlong into an indoor pellet stove the night before they found him unconscious.
Self-harm “is a hard concept to grasp if you haven’t lived it, like Mike and Nanette did,’’ defense lawyer Rick Robinson told jurors yesterday.
But prosecutors said the skinny, blond boy’s 41-pound body told a different tale, not one of self-abuse but of chronic abuse and neglect.
“Common sense tells you that he didn’t do this to himself. Common sense tells you that they did this to him . . . and they prevented him from getting medical care,’’ Tim Barker, York County’s chief deputy district attorney, said in his closing arguments.
Prosecutors believe Nathaniel died from repeated blows to the head but never said which parent allegedly delivered them. Defense lawyers presented something of a joint defense, calling friends and medical experts to testify for both spouses.
Two Russian TV stations covered yesterday’s session, and a vice consul with the Russian embassy was on hand. Russian officials closely watched the verdict, especially after a string of similar cases threatened the intercountry adoptions.
Russian authorities say that at least 17 Russian children have died in domestic violence incidents in their American families. And a Tennessee woman stoked the tensions last year when she sent an allegedly violent 7-year-old boy she had adopted back to Moscow alone - with a note about his problems.
Nathaniel and his sister, born prematurely, spent their first year in a Russian hospital and another six months in an orphanage.
Nathaniel weighed 3½ pounds at birth and never moved out of the fifth percentile in weight for boys his age. The prosecution’s forensic pathologist, Dr. Wayne Ross, listed starvation as a factor in his death. But the defense disputed that, arguing that his weight never varied by more than a pound or two.