Tennessee couple Michael, Shirley Gray who starved daughter to death and locked son for 4 years face execution
Prosecutors will seek the death sentence for Shirley and Michael Gray Sr if either is found guilty of first-degree murder of their adopted daughter, Sophie Heather Gray
ROANE COUNTY, TENNESSEE: A Tennessee couple is facing the death penalty after they allegedly starved their 11-year-old adopted daughter to death for "stealing food" from the pantry while being locked up in the basement. Prosecutors will seek the death sentence for Shirley and Michael Gray Sr if either is found guilty of first-degree murder of their adopted daughter, Sophie Heather Gray.
The victim's body was recovered by Roane County authorities in the backyard of the duo's Ten Mile neighborhood home on May 23. Prosecutors called the girl's murder "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel in that it involved serious torture or serious physical abuse beyond that necessary to cause death", as per court documents. District Attorney General Russell Johnson sent legal notices to Michael and Shirley in mid-December saying that the state will seek to put them to death if they are convicted of first-degree murder.
Knox News obtained warrants in which deputies detailed how the Grays had locked the girl in their basement in 2017 to punish her for "stealing" food from the kitchen. Sophie Gray died a few months later and her adoptive father told investigators that he kept her body in a cardboard box before he buried her in the backyard.
Now, the Grays face 42 charges each under accusations of child abuse that is said to have occurred during or after 2017 at their home. According to the District Attorney General's Office, the couple was indicted on "four counts of felony murder, eight counts of aggravated child abuse, eight counts of aggravated child neglect, nine counts of aggravated kidnapping, and six counts of especially aggravated kidnapping". Meanwhile, they also each face counts of "abuse of a corpse, charging theft, and falsification of educational or academic records".
An investigation was launched after one of the Grays' adopted children was found walking alone on the roadside, per the outlet. When authorities returned the child to the family, Gray Sr reportedly told the Department of Child Services he had a 15-year-old child locked up in his basement while another was buried in his backyard. Authorities searched the house after obtaining an arrest warrant and found the 15-year-old boy in the home's unfinished and partially flooded basement. The entire home smelled of urine and feces, deputies noted in their paperwork, while the basement was full of garbage, mold, exposed wires and had no electricity, running water or bathroom.
The Grays had locked the boy in the basement for four years and fed him only bread and water during that period to punish him for "stealing" food from the pantry and refrigerator. Deputies said at least one other child was kept inside a wire dog case in the basement from time to time. At some point, the Grays built a small concrete room — measuring less than 3 feet by 4 feet — in the basement for confining the children.
Deputies also noted how the three children rescued from the home appeared "to be stunted in growth" and that none had received medical attention in at least six years. Shirley Gray told authorities the children were homeschooled. However, court documents noted how they were found "to have no formal education" and were "amazed by what a refrigerator does when they observed one in their foster home".
As reported by Knox News, the couple, along with their adult son Michael Gray Jr, are also facing charges for the alleged child abuse and murder of another of their adopted children before they moved to Roane County. Detectives found the body of Jonathan Gray, who was around 8 years old at the time of his death, buried in the backyard of Gray Jr's residence off Cedarbreeze Road. According to Knoxville News Sentinel, the Grays adopted a total of five children. Three of them were rescued by the authorities, while Sophie and Jonathan were found dead.
Furthermore, the Grays reportedly also face charges for Tenncare fraud and theft after they continued to collect anywhere between $15,000 and $61,000 in benefits from the state by keeping the children's deaths a secret.