Accused Oxford High shooter 'enjoyed his dark side,' Oakland prosecutors say
Oakland County prosecutors said Tuesday that accused Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley was "calculated" and "enjoyed his dark side," while defense lawyers countered that the teen cried out for help but received none.
Ahead of a Nov. 30 rampage, the teen allegedly plotted in text messages and a private journal the type of gun he needed to "maximize the number of kills" he could get, who he would target first, and his plan to surrender "to witness the pain and suffering he caused," according to prosecutors.
But Crumbley's defense team depicted the teen as mentally unwell and crying out for help that he didn't get ahead of the shooting that left four of his classmates dead and six other students and a teacher wounded.
The arguments played out during a Tuesday hearing over where the 15-year-old sophomore should be housed as he awaits trial on 24 felonies including first-degree murder and terrorism. Crumbley has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
For now, Crumbley, who is charged as an adult, is incarcerated at the Oakland County Jail. His legal team has pressed for him to be transferred instead to a juvenile facility in Pontiac.
Federal laws set a high bar for housing a youth in an adult detention instead of juvenile detention except if a judge finds that keeping a minor in an adult facility is "in the interest of justice." Among the factors the judge must take into account are the offender's age, the circumstances of the charges, physical and mental maturity, and current mental state including the risk of self-harm.
There is a 180-day limit unless there is "good cause" for an extension under federal law.
In making their case Tuesday, Oakland County prosecutors alleged Crumbley in texts and journal entries laid out plans to "rape, torture and ultimately kill a female classmate" and that he "expressed delight in torturing a family of baby birds."
Assistant Prosecutor Markeisha Washington said Crumbley spoke of his admiration of Adolf Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer, specifically stating: "When you die, you need to be remembered for a long time doing something that will make people think of you until time ends."
"The defendant's anti-social behavior is very concerning," Washington told Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Kwame Rowe. "The evidence will show he bragged about wearing a mask to the public. He enjoyed his dark side."
Fellow Oakland County assistant prosecutor Kelly Collins described Children's Village as a place that “mirrors the scene of the crime” Crumbley is charged with.
The teen, in text messages with a friend, Collins said, wrote: "In public, you have to put on a mask to blend in."
"And according to the defendant ... 'the scary thing is, I like being this f----- up,'" she said. "That is the kind of person that we are contemplating placing with other juveniles that are much less sophisticated, that are at risk, that he would gravitate to."
Crumbley's attorney Paulette Loftin countered that leading up to the rampage, the teen was hallucinating, seeing things and hearing voices.
"He was not sleeping, he was extremely anxious," she said. "He was not eating properly ... and he asked his parents to see a therapist. And at the time of this event, my client was not in any sort of therapy."
In Oakland County Jail, Crumbley has “very little access with anyone,” she said, other than a deputy who checks in on him every 15 minutes.
“This extreme isolation is not beneficial whatsoever, and actually harms Mr. Crumbley,” Loftin told the judge.
Loftin said that other than 12 visits from the lawyers working his case, and emails from “random” people, he has little contact with the world. “He doesn’t have the phone numbers of his family members,” she added.
Rowe, following nearly three hours of arguments, said he would take the matter under advisement and likely issue a decision on the teen's placement in writing early next week.
Criminal justice advocates and some mental health experts have said the practice of isolating juveniles in adult detention facilities can cause irreparable mental harm. Regardless of being charged as an adult, Crumbley, who is under age 18, is legally considered a child.
Prosecutors have played up the security record at Children's Village and the potential difficulty in catching the teen if he escaped. The office, in a filing last month, noted there have been eight escapes or walk-aways over a nine-month span.
What case worker said
Witnesses testified Tuesday about staffing limitations at the juvenile center and the care Crumbley's getting in the county's adult jail.
Christina Belling, a caseworker with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, said she’s been involved in Crumbley’s case since “the day he came in,” Dec. 1. They met “daily,” ranging from “five, 10 minutes” and longer, to assess the teen for mental health issues.
Since January, when Crumbley was taken off of “constant watch” at the jail, Belling and Crumbley have met less often, about “twice a week,” she testified Tuesday.
Belling noted that of the 70 inmates she works with at the jail, Crumbley is the only one she meets twice a week, “because of his housing and because he’s a juvenile." He is her only juvenile client.
Heather Calcaterra, manager of Children’s Village, detailed the lodging arrangements and permitted activities within the juvenile facility, which can house up to 60 inmates at a time and has 38 inmates now.
“How many are there on a charge of murder?” Collins asked.
“None,” Calcaterra responded.
But authorities and lawyers acknowledged before the hearing that juvenile murder suspects and convicts have been held in Children's Village before.
Inmates on the campus, each are housed in a single "cement slab" room. They attend school, have time for homework and recreation.
It has a ratio of one staffer per eight residents “during waking hours,” Calcaterra said.
She also acknowledged the facility has "staffing issues." About a month ago, Calcaterra said, there was a temporary lockdown for about a week "because we simply could not staff it safely."
Upon admission, inmates are screened to assess their state of mind as they're coming in. If a risk of suicide, depression or anxiety is identified, "we may put them on a safety plan and they would be monitored," she said.
Last month, Crumbley's legal team filed a notice of an insanity defense in the circuit court. Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald maintains she does not believe Crumbley's mental state would affect his ability to face charges.
Loftin after the hearing told reporters that a date for a mental evaluation for Crumbley was pending.
Calcaterra testified Tuesday of her concern about housing a juvenile accused in a school shooting, the “trauma impact” on other residents, and the facility’s ability to take care of someone who has offered an insanity defense.
“We don’t know how the defendant’s presence on the campus, on the unit, will trigger other young people in Oakland County,” Calcaterra said. “I’m also concerned for his safety. I do not know if he would be a target.”
Oakland County Sheriff Department Capt. Tom Vida, who oversees operations at the county's jail, reiterated that Crumbley is confined to his cell unless he’s making a call, taking a shower or going into a medical exam room.
Vida told the court that Oakland County Jail has never incarcerated a school shooter.
But when asked whether he was worried for Crumbley’s safety at the jail, Vida said: “Absolutely not.”
In a closing argument, Collins stressed that moving Crumbley back to the juvenile facility would be “completely inappropriate, and against the interests of justice.”
“The defendant committed the calculated premeditated mass murder upon other juveniles in a structured school setting,” Collins said. "He anticipated and wrote about his expected life behind bars with the intention that he would be remembered forever. He contemplated the pros and cons of going out in a blaze of glory."
She further portrayed Crumbley as seeking the fame that comes with a mass shooting.
“He wants to be compared to the likes of Hitler or Dahmer or the Parkland School shooter, using them as inspiration for actions that he sets about taking,” Collins said.
Collins noted a Dec. 17 request from Crumbley to get his “fan mail."
"He knows that he's going to have people admire him and people who hate him alike and he wants that notoriety," Collins said. "Overall, he indicates (to juveniles he exchanges emails with) that it's not so bad in here. I got a TV, I get good food, the deputies are nice. He also takes time to mention to some of his fans out there 'my next court date is Feb. 22, maybe you can watch it on TV.'"
What defense team argued
Loftin said the teen also told a friend via text messages "I need help" and "I was thinking of calling 911 so I could go to the hospital."
She said Crumbley was "seeing things and hearing voices" and that "he had no one in his corner to get him the therapy that he so desperately needed."
"He is completely isolated and for someone with mental health issues, isolation is horrific," Loftin said.
The teen's parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, are each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deadly shooting. Each felony charge is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Killed were Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17.
The couple had portrayed their son as troubled, according to testimony presented earlier this month during the first day of the couple's preliminary examination in Rochester Hills District Court. The exam is set to resume Thursday.
Jennifer Crumbley had a growing concern over their son's lack of relationships and shared a screenshot with friends and colleagues of the troubling artwork allegedly drawn by her son and noted that she'd been called to his school to discuss it.
Prosecutors contend James and Jennifer Crumbley failed to properly secure a gun purchased for Ethan and that they failed to address concerns pointed out by school officials about the teen's behaviors, including a couple of hours before the deadly shooting.