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Son will be tried separately from parents in abuse, murder case involving adoptive children

Michael Gray Jr. is charged along with his parents in the Knox County murder case.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Update 8/13/21

The man charged along with his parents with abusing several adopted children and killing one asked the court to try him separately from his parents on Friday.

Michael Anthony Gray Jr.'s defense called a Knox County investigator who testified that his parents, Michael Anthony Gray Sr. and Shirley Gray, said in several interviews with both Roane County and Knox County investigators that he had no knowledge of the abuse or bodies. 

The investigator also said that there was no evidence from his parents' statements that indicated corroboration or conspiracy to harm the children.

When cross-examined by the prosecutor, the detective did say that several of the children’s statements showed that Gray Jr. knew of the abuse and that the children had been locked in a closet in the basement. There was also evidence that he was benefitting financially by claiming some of the kids on his taxes as dependents.

The judge ruled to sever the case and set a separate trial date for Gray Jr., without prejudice, meaning that should it become necessary to consolidate the cases in the future, the judge will reconsider. 

There will be a bond relief hearing for Gray Jr. on Sept. 9.

Original Story

A former Knox County man charged along with his parents with abusing several adopted children and killing one wants to be tried by himself.

Michael Gray Jr., 40, claims the evidence against his parents Michael Sr., 64, and Shirley Gray, 61, is far more damning than it is against him. They've talked to investigators and admitted they're guilty, Gray Jr.'s lawyer states in court papers.

It would hurt the son's defense to have to sit in the same trial with his parents, Gray Jr. argues.

Attorney Scott Lanzon is seeking the severance on behalf of his client in Knox County Criminal Court.

"The evidence against Michael Gray's co-defendants is very strong," Lanzon's motion to sever states.

Knox County Assistant District Attorney General Nate Ogle, however, said the son should be tried with his parents because they were all in on the abuse together.

Gray Jr., his father and his mother "engaged in a criminal conspiracy wherein each participant played different roles in the heinous acts perpetrated against the victims in this case as part of a common scheme or plan employed by the Gray family defendants -- abusing the adoption system for monetary gain," Ogle wrote in response to Gray Jr.'s bid.

Knox County Criminal Court Judge Scott Green has not yet ruled on Gray Jr.'s request.

Gray Jr. is charged only in Knox County. But his parents face prosecution in both Knox and Roane counties. In fact, District Attorney General Russell Johnson has filed notice he's ready to seek the death penalty against the elder Gray if the case goes to trial in Roane County.

Authorities learned about the family's alleged crimes in May 2020 after one of the adoptive children, a boy, was found wandering on a Roane County road down from his home.

Investigative interviews led to the discovery of the remains of an adoptive girl, Sophie Gray, on the Grays' property in the Ten Mile community of Roane County. Sophie is thought to have died in early 2017 after years of abuse and neglect.

Authorities also discovered two other adoptive children in the home, one of whom, a boy, had been subjected to squalid living conditions and near starvation in the basement.

As police spoke to the elder Grays, they learned the remains of another adoptive child, a boy named Jonathan, had been buried in the yard of the Grays' former home in Halls in Knox County.

Jonathan is thought to have died in 2015 or 2016 while the adoptive parents and Gray Jr. were living in the Halls house. The elder Grays moved to Roane County in 2016, leaving Gray Jr. to live in the home.

He was there in May 2020 when the Knox County Sheriff's Office descended on the home and found Jonathan Gray's remains.

The parents are charged with Sophie Gray's murder and abuse of the other children in Roane County. They're also charged with murder and abuse, among other crimes, in Knox County.

 Michael Gray isn't charged in Roane County. In Knox County, he's charged in Jonathan's death and with aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect and abuse of a corpse among other counts.

Lanzon argues having Gray Jr. go through a trial with his parents would taint the case against him.

"The admissions by his (parents) are to heinous crimes against children including various forms of torture, beating and resulting murder," the defense argues. "Michael Gray is not alleged to have perpetrated any of the acts that his co-defendants admit to committing."

Ogle said in his response that the parents actually have not implicated their son in their alleged crimes. They mostly implicated themselves.

"There were very limited questions at all about Michael Anthony Gray Jr. at that time because his involvement in the criminal conspiracy was more concretely established after the questioning of his parents was completed through the statements of two of the surviving victims, text messages uncovered between Shirley Gray and Michael Anthony Gray Jr., the fruits of the search of his home and the fruits of the search of his financial records," Ogle wrote.

The three surviving children were removed from the home. The three Grays are being held in jail.

The family profited off and lived off adopting children and getting public payments for their care, Ogle alleges.

Jonathan Gray's "torturous, neglectful death" and the suffering imposed on his siblings is a sad byproduct of the family's plan, Ogle alleges.