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Tennessee Family Facing Murder Charges In 2 Separate Counties For Deaths Of Adopted Children

The bodies of two of Shirley Gray And Michael Gray Sr.'s adopted children were found buried on separate properties, authorities say.

By Jill Sederstrom
Tragic and Disturbing Cases of Child Abuse

A Tennessee woman who is facing multiple charges along with her husband and son in two separate counties for the abuse and deaths of the couple's adopted children appeared in court for the first time on Friday after contracting coronavirus in jail.

Shirley Gray, her husband Michael Gray Sr., and the couple’s 40-year-old biological son Michael Gray Jr. are facing counts of first-degree murder, felony murder, aggravated child abuse and other felonies in Knox County in connection with the death of their adopted 8-year-old son Jonathan. The boy was found buried in the backyard of their home earlier this year, local station WBIR reports.  

The couple are also facing murder and abuse charges in Roane County after their young daughter, Sophie, died while living with the family. Gray Sr. allegedly admitted to burying Sophie on the property of that home, according to the station.

Shirley Gray, who appeared for the first time in the Knox County Case on Friday after a delay due to a coronavirus outbreak, was made aware of the charges against her in that county. 

Shirley Michael Sr Michael Jr Gray Pd

Michael Gray Sr. and Michael Gray Jr. were both arraigned earlier this month in the case, but Shirley Gray’s arraignment was delayed after she was one of multiple Knox County inmates to contract COVID-19, according to WATE.

Attorneys said on Friday that the couple will be tried on the charges facing them in Roane County before going on trial in Knox County.

Knox County Assistant District Attorney General Nate Ogle said the Grays lived with their adult son in Knox County from 2011 to 2016. They moved into the lower level of the home along with their four or five adopted children.

Prosecutors have accused the couple of abusing the children in their care—including keeping several in cages—during their time at the home. Investigators believe their adopted son Jonathan died sometime around 2015 or 2016 and was later buried in the yard of the home.

Gray Jr.'s attorney Scott Lanzon has argued that his client was not involved in the crimes, which he called “repugnant.” He placed the blame instead on the elder Grays.

Lanzon attempted on Friday to get the judge to reduce his client’s $500,000 bond or agree to GPS monitoring, arguing that Gray Jr. had been a law-abiding citizen and did not have a passport.

“This is going to be long haul,” he said. “My client is innocent.”

But Ogle said that two of the couple’s surviving children have already implicated Gray Jr. in the crimes. He also argued that Gray Jr. had done nothing to stop the alleged abuse.

“He’s directly involved in this,” he said, according to WBIR.

Authorities said that one of the couple’s other adopted children, a 15-year-old boy, said that he had been kept in a small room and cage while living in Gray Jr.’s home, according to an earlier report from WBIR. The boy also allegedly told authorities that Jonathan had disappeared from the house after he got sick and that his parents said that Jonathan had gone to live with another family, authorities said.

The judge declined to reduce Gray Jr.’s bond Friday, keeping all three family members behind bars.

Assistant District Attorney Sean F. McDermott declined to comment on the case to Oxygen.com, citing “ethical rules” that prevented him from making any pre-trial statements.

Shirley Gray and Michael Gray Sr. are also facing separate charges in Roane County after they moved—along with several of their children—from their son’s home in 2016 to the Ten Mile community of Roane County.

Prosecutors in Roane County believe one of the children, Sophie, was murdered in that home sometime in early 2017 and buried on the property. The remains were discovered in May, local station WATE reports.

Authorities said other children in the family were subjected to prolonged abuse that included a poor diet, which stunted their growth.

Shirley Gray and Michael Gray Sr. pleaded not guilty to the charges they are facing in Roane County and are expected to appear back in court in that case in December