Prosecutors will seek death penalty in adopted child’s death

KNOXVILLE (AP) — Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against a Roane County couple charged with murder in the death of one of their adopted children, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

Roane County authorities recovered the body of Sophie Heather Gray in the backyard of Shirley and Michael Gray Sr. last May. Deputies said she was about 11 years old at the time of her death. 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.”

According to warrants, deputies said the girl died after being locked for months in the basement in 2017 as punishment for eating food from the kitchen.

Roane County deputies began investigating the Grays after one of their adopted children was found walking alone on the roadside. Arrest warrant paperwork detailed authorities’ search of the house and their rescue of the Grays’ three surviving adopted children.

Deputies found a 15-year-old boy in the home’s unfinished and partially flooded basement, which had no electricity, running water or bathroom.

The basement was full of human and animal feces, garbage, mold and exposed wires. Deputies said the Grays had locked the boy down there for four years, feeding him only bread and water, as punishment for “stealing” food from the pantry and refrigerator.

At least one other child periodically was kept inside a wire dog cage in the basement and later in a small concrete room under the stairs, according to warrants.