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ROANE COUNTY, Tenn. Michael Gray Sr. and Shirley Gray, the couple charged in a years-long child abuse and murder case, both pled guilty to felony murder Tuesday. The two waived their right to a trial in doing so.

Michael Gray Sr. and Shirley Gray’s case has been moving through the Roane and Knox County court systems for years after an investigation into their treatment of their four adopted children was prompted in May of 2020. Tuesday’s hearing was held in Roane County, but applied to both the Roane County and Knox County portions of the investigation.

According to investigators, Roane County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a call almost four years ago saying someone had dropped off a child who was found without his parents. Those deputies then took the child home to the Grays, where they discovered that the two had not known he was gone.

From there, the investigation furthered. Authorities said they discovered that the Gray’s had abused another adopted child for four years and a daughter of theirs had died after being confined to a basement, being fed only bread and water as punishment for trying to steal food. Investigators said the Grays had buried the 11-year-old in the Roane County home’s back yard without telling anyone, continuing to collect on state assistance for the girl’s care.

Going further, investigators later said they had discovered the body of another child, a six-year-old, buried at a Knox County home belonging to Anthony Gray Jr., the biological son of the Gray couple. That case was investigated by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, prompting a Knox County portion of the investigation, which also includes Anthony Gray Jr.

The hearing itself was split in two, first focusing on Michael Gray Sr., then Shirley Gray.

First, Roane County Criminal Court Judge Jeff Wicks’ read Michael Gray Sr.’s charges. Those charges included, in addition to the felony murder charges, child abuse, child neglect, kidnapping, abuse of a corpse and theft charges.

Prosecutors from Knox and Roane County then gave a statement of facts during Michael Gray Sr.’s hearing, explaining the extent of the couple’s abuse. The reasoning being that, should the case have moved to trial, the state would be able to provide evidence against the Grays.

The prosecution said the Grays confined the children to “punishment rooms” in Knox County, which were described as filthy closets and animal cages, when the couple decided they had misbehaved. This, in addition to locking the children in the basement of the Roane County home. This is believed to be the primary reason two of them died; prosecutors said that the children were underfed and not given medical care when they became sick during punishment.

As for Shirley Gray’s portion of the hearing, it went similarly. Judge Wicks read her charges and the prosecution for both counties gave a similar explanation of the investigation, which again outlined the extent of the abuse and how the couple stole money from the state by continuing to claim benefits for the two children who died.

Both Michael Gray Sr. and Shirley Gray pled guilty to the felony murder charges in both counties and were sentenced to life in prison without parole. Several of the other charges were dismissed as part of the couple’s plea agreement.

“I’m appalled at what I’ve heard here today,” Wicks said during sentencing, adding that he believed the Grays would be spending the rest of their lives in conditions better than their adopted children lived in.

Michael Gray Jr. is scheduled for a status hearing on May 17.