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Couple accused in killing, abuse of adoptive children may be tried first in Roane County

Shirley Gray was arraigned Friday in Knox County. Gray, her husband and her son are next due in Knox County court Feb. 4.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — UPDATE 4 PM FRIDAY:  Lawyers said Friday the couple accused of abusing several adoptive children and killing two of them will be tried first in Roane County and then later in Knox County for their alleged crimes.

Also Friday, a Knox County judge declined to reduce the bond for the couple's adult biological son, who is accused along with his parents of killing an adoptive child and abusing several others at his Knox County home.

Michael Anthony Gray Jr., 40, is being held in lieu of $500,000 bond.

Criminal Court Judge Scott Green said the amount isn't unreasonable considering he's accused of felony murder and other crimes. Gray and his parents, Michael Sr., and Shirley Gray have been indicted by a Knox County grand jury on counts of first-degree murder, felony murder, aggravated child abuse and other felonies.

Defense attorney Scott Lanzon sought to get his client out of jail, arguing he's been a law-abiding citizen, has no passport to flee the country and is innocent of the murder counts. He said Gray Jr. would be willing to wear a GPS tracking device while free.

"This is going to be a long haul," Lanzon told Green. "My client is innocent."

Knox County Assistant District Attorney General Nate Ogle, however, said the state has ample proof to show Gray Jr. was a party to the abuse of his parents' adoptive children.

The parents lived in the lower level of Gray Jr.'s Halls house on Cedarbreeze Road from about 2011 to 2016, Ogle said. Four or five adoptive children lived downstairs with them.

While they were there, one of the children died, allegedly from abuse. Someone buried the child, named Jonathan, in the yard of the home in 2015 or 2016.

Ogle said two of the surviving children have already implicated Gray Jr. in the crimes.

Gray Jr. did nothing to stop the alleged abuse, Ogle said. The state is prepared to call a witness who will testify to seeing two of the adoptive Gray children being held in cages.

"He's directly involved in this," Ogle told Green.

Lanzon disputed that. He said his client had nothing to do with Jonathan's death. He called the crimes "repugnant" and suggested they were all perpetrated by Gray's parents.

Gray Jr. is not charged in Roane County.

The judge said he was struck by the prosecution's insistence that they had direct proof of Gray Jr.'s role in the Knox County abuse. He said he'd reconsider the bond request if Lanzon wants to raise it later.

"I'm not adjusting the bond today," he said.

On Friday, Shirley Gray also made her first appearance in the Knox County case. Green informed her of the charges. She's being represented by the Knox County District Public Defender's Office.

Michael Gray Sr. was prepared to be in court but didn't make an appearance.

The family next is due to appear before Green on Feb. 4.

Gray Sr. and Shirley Gray also face murder and abuse charges in Roane County.

It appears they will be tried first in the Roane County case, lawyers said. Dec. 18 is their next court appearance in Roane County.

In 2016, the Grays moved from their son's home in Halls to their own home in the Ten Mile community of Roane County. Several children went with them.

Sometime in early 2017, a girl named Sophie died while living with them. Gray Sr. has admitted burying her on the property.

Roane County authorities allege Sophie was murdered and the other children were subjected to prolonged abuse, including being confined and limited to a poor diet that stunted their growth.

PREVIOUS STORY: The Roane County couple accused of abusing their adoptive children in two East Tennessee counties appeared in court Friday as the prosecution moves forward with its case.

Shirley Gray, 60, was arraigned on murder, abuse and theft charges in Knox County. Her previous planned arraignment before Knox County Criminal Court Judge Scott Green had to be postponed earlier this month because she'd been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Her husband, Michael Gray Sr., 64, and her son, Michael Gray Jr., 40, already have been arraigned in the Knox County case. Judge Green heard an argument from the son's lawyer asking to reduce his bond, but decided to keep it at $500,000. The judge could still consider reducing it if the defense requests to again.

Green said at their appearances he wanted to bring everyone together Friday to begin setting deadlines and planning for a trial. At this point, all three Grays are to be tried together.

Credit: KCSO
Michael A. Gray Jr., set to appear Friday in Criminal Court.

The trio are named in the Knox County indictment. They're in custody in Knox County.

At one point about five years ago the family all lived together in a house on Cedarbreeze Road in Halls. Sharing the lower part of the house with them were four or five adoptive children.

One of them, Jonathan, died and was buried in the yard, a search warrant states. It's not clear how or why he died.

The elder Grays moved to Roane County in 2016. The couple face murder and abuse charges there as well, tied to their time living in a home in the Ten Mile community. They've pleaded not guilty in that case.

Roane County Sheriff's authorities say in May they found the remains of another adoptive child -- Sophie -- on the Gray property. They also found evidence some of the other children had been subjected to abuse and a limited, spartan diet.

Some of the children suffered stunted growth because of poor care by the Grays, prosecutors say.

Michael Gray Jr. is not charged in Roane County. The Halls house has since been sold.

Prosecutors say the Grays drew state payments for the children in their care. They had three boys and two girls.

The children were returned to state custody after the Grays were arrested in May in Roane County.