A couple face the death penalty after being charged with starving a young girl to death.
Shirley and Michael Gray Sr have been accused of the first-degree murder of their adopted daughter, Sophie Heather Gray, and a total of 42 child abuse charges each.
Sophie's body was found in the couple’s back garden in May last year. 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.”
Grays adopted a total of five children. Three of them were rescued by the authorities while the bodies of Sophie and another child, eight-year-old Jonathan, were found at the Grays’ home.
The investigation was launched after one of the children was found walking alone on a main road.
Police picked the child up and took them home, at which point Michael Gray told the Department of Child Services he had a 15-year-old locked up in his basement and another child buried in his backyard.
A search of the Grays’ home found the teenager locked in a filthy basement that had no electricity, running water or bathroom. He had reportedly been confined there for four years and living on just bread and water, because his adoptive mother Shirley, 61, had caught him stealing food from the pantry.
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Deputies searching the property said they had found evidence that at least one other child was kept inside a wire dog cage in the basement and the Grays had also built a small concrete cell — measuring less than 3 feet by 4 feet — in the basement.
Michael, 64, told the deputies searching the house that he kept Sophie’s body in a cardboard box for some time before burying her.
The entire home smelled of urine and faeces, police noted.
According to a news release from District Attorney General Russell Johnson, the couple have been 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".
Prosecutors are also reportedly considering bringing charges of fraud and theft after the Grays continued to collect state benefits estimated at somewhere between $15,000 and $61,000 while keeping the children's deaths a secret.
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