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Crumbleys say in court filing that gun was locked up, they knew of no threat

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Rochester Hills — The parents of the teen accused in the Oxford High School shooting had no idea their son posed a threat to anyone and the gun police said they took from him had been hidden in a locked drawer in their bedroom, attorneys for the couple wrote in a court filing.

Attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman argued Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald will have a difficult time proving gross negligence by James and Jennifer Crumbley, who are accused of buying the Sig Sauer Model SP 2022 9 mm semi-automatic handgun for their son Ethan Crumbley, 15, as a Christmas present.

James and Jennifer Crumbley are both charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the four students killed in the shooting and face up to 15 years in prison. Their son is charged as an adult and jailed on first-degree murder, terrorism and other charges in the Nov. 30 shooting that could keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.

James Crumbley is escorted out of a hearing in Rochester Hills on Dec. 14, 2021.

The arguments were included in a legal motion filed Wednesday ahead of a hearing on Jan. 7 where Oakland County District Judge Julie Nicholson is expected to consider lowering the $500,000 bonds for the couple to $100,000 each and releasing them from the Oakland County Jail on electronic tethers. 

A probable cause hearing is set for Feb. 8.

"...the prosecution will not be able to prove that the Crumbleys willfully disregarded any fact or circumstance that caused harm to another, that they knew their son was a danger to other students, or that they knew there was a situation that required them to take care to avoid injuring another," the couple's attorneys wrote. "The Crumbleys, like every parent and community member, are devastated by the school shooting on November 30, 2021. The last thing they expected was that a school shooting would take place, or that their son would be responsible. This situation is entirely devastating.

"When Mrs. Crumbley texted Ethan, “Don’t do it,” a quote the prosecution has repeated in the media many times, the shootings had already happened, Mr. Crumbley had determined the gun was missing and had notified authorities, and Mrs. Crumbley was texting her son to tell him not to kill himself.”

The attorneys argued that to prove gross negligence McDonald needs to show the parents exhibited willful disregard rather than carelessness and that they knew their son was a danger.

The facts presented by prosecutors have also changed, the attorneys wrote, claiming that McDonald said at a press conference on Dec. 3 that "...the gun was stored unlocked in a drawer in James and Jennifer’s bedroom.

Later in December, according to the filing, McDonald was asked during an interview on "Good Morning America" if the gun had been locked. She responded, according to the lawsuit, “No, I’m not positive because these are just allegations, but the evidence shows at this point that he does have free access to that weapon…”

The attorneys wrote in the filing that "the Crumbleys did have the gun at issue in a locked and hidden location."

“It is clear from media appearances by McDonald that the case is one she takes very personally, which was filed angry and filed with an effort to send a message to gun owners,” the filing reads.

School leaders called the teen’s parents to the school on the morning of Nov. 30 after a teacher alerted a counselor to disturbing behavior. The teacher saw a piece of paper in front of Ethan Crumbley with the words: "the thoughts won't stop, help me" and a drawing of a bullet and the phrase: "blood everywhere." 

In the meeting — and it isn’t clear which school officials attended, although Superintendent Tim Throne said the school resource officer was not called — his parents were shown the drawings and were told they were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours. Jennifer and James Crumbley were asked to remove their son from the school, a request they resisted. They left without him. 

James Crumbley and Jennifer Crumbley appear in 52nd District Court for a probable cause conference in the case of the Oxford High School mass shooting December 14, 2021 in Rochester Hills, Michigan. James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of 15 year-old Ethan Crumbley who allegedly shot 10 of his schoolmates and 1 teacher at Oxford High School, killing 4 of them, each face 4 counts of involuntary manslaughter for their alleged roll.

Ethan Crumbley remained in the building and was allowed to return to class, prosecutors allege, with the handgun hidden.

Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17, were killed in the shooting. 

The Crumbleys were the subject of a manhunt by local and federal authorities when they failed to show for an arraignment on charges as originally promised by Smith and Lehman. They claim in the filing that McDonald did not return messages from the lawyers and held a press conference on Dec. 3 knowing that Smith was in a trial and Lehman was traveling back to Michigan from Florida. 

Their attorneys stress neither parent is a flight risk, police have taken all their weapons and they can't have contact with their son because he is jailed.

Attorneys said the Crumbleys, residents of Oxford and nearby Lake Orion for over a decade, are well-regarded by many in the community who will be glad to share their thoughts anonymously with officials because they are in fear for their own safety for speaking out in support for the couple.

Ethan Crumbley appears at his probable cause hearing via remote video conference on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021.

McDonald could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but a spokesman said her office will object to the bond reduction.

"We believe the bond set by the court is appropriate in this case and will express that in our response," said David Williams, McDonald's chief assistant prosecutor.

Smith and Lehman declined to comment.


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