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DA to seek death penalty for Roane Co. couple charged with abusing, killing adoptive children

Prosecutors said Michael Gray Sr. and Shirley Gray locked their adoptive children in the basement, fed them a starvation diet, and buried a young girl in their yard.

ROANE COUNTY, Tenn. — Prosecutors said they plan to seek the death penalty in Roane County for a couple accused in a horrific child abuse case that spanned two counties.

In notices filed in mid-December, District Attorney General Russell Johnson notified Michael Gray Sr. and Shirley Gray that if they are convicted of first-degree murder, the state will seek to put them to death.

The couple entered not guilty pleas to charges of murder, child abuse, and kidnapping in Roane County in October. They face similar charges in Knox County including felony murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect, abuse of a corpse, Tenncare fraud, and theft. 

The pair do not face the death penalty in Knox County. 

The case came to light in May after authorities were alerted about a wandering child near the Gray home in the Ten Mile community.

It led to the discovery of what appeared to be a child's remains on the Gray property and allegations that the Grays kept children locked in the basement and fed them a starvation diet while drawing thousands of dollars in state payments.

Shirley Gray and her husband Michael Gray have been held in jail since their arrest in May.

The abuse is alleged to have happened over several years at the Grays' Dry Fork Valley Road home, records state.

The indictments state the Grays killed a 10-year-old girl living in their home some time between January and March 2017. They are also charged with abusing her corpse.

The documents don't name the child, whose remains were found in May 2020 buried on the Gray property.

According to the grand jury, the two also subjected the same child to abuse and harm from June 2016 until her death in 2017.

In addition, the couple is charged with abusing another unnamed child starting in June 2016 when the child was 6 years ago. That abuse was so bad it stunted the child's growth and led to "loss of physical function and severe psychological distress."

The alleged abuse continued until Roane County authorities intervened and began investigating May 22, 2020, records state.

The grand jury also alleges the Grays engaged in similar child abuse of another unnamed child who was age 11 when it began. That child also was subjected to ongoing harm that continued through May 2020.

Michael and Shirley Gray also confined the children at times, resulting in the aggravated kidnapping counts, the grand jury alleges.

They are also accused of falsifying educational records for the children from June 2016 to May 2020 while stating that they were homeschooling them.

Lastly, the Grays face an indictment for the theft of $65,125 in state money. Authorities have said the two may have drawn payments for the adoptive children as a means to support themselves.