Prosecutor to Crumbley parents: Having lawyers from same firm won't be basis for appeal

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac – The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office wants the parents of the accused Oxford High shooter put on notice that having respective attorneys from the same law firm does not provide them with a potential appeal upon conviction for their felony offenses.

James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, are in the Oakland County Jail, each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of four students. They have a pretrial hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at which time a trial date is set. The offenses can carry up to 15 years in prison.

Their attorneys, Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman, work in the same law office and took turns at district court hearings questioning witnesses on behalf of their clients. The prosecutor’s office said while both parents have said they had no problems with the arrangement, it could conceivably pose a potential conflict at trial regarding individual guilt or innocence for crimes. They want Judge Cheryl Matthews to advise them of the possible conflict as a “joint representation safeguard.”

Jennifer Crumbley writes notes after she had one hand freed from hand cuffs Thursday during a pre-trail hearing hearing.

“As explained in the motion we filed, the purpose of the motion is to make sure these defendants understand that, once convicted, they will not be entitled to a 'do-over' when they later decide that they should have had separate counsel,” chief assistant prosecuting attorney David W. Williams said in a statement. “Our goal is justice for the victims, and if these defendants decide to proceed with joint representation, that should not come at the expense of the taxpayers, the court, the prosecution, and most of all, it must not come at the expense of the victims.”

The prosecutor’s office maintains the parents had advance knowledge of their son’s emotional problems, yet purchased him a handgun as an early Christmas gift and took him to a gun range to practice. They allege the parents never properly locked up or stored the weapon. The morning of the shooting the couple had met with officials at school over concerns that the teenager was searching for ammunition on his phone and had scrawled disturbing words and drawings on his math homework indicating he was having mental problems.

Defendant James Crumbley looks on during a pre-trial hearing at 52-3 District Court in Rochester, Thursday.

A school official recommended the couple take their son out of school and to a counselor immediately, but they refused, saying they had to return to their respective jobs that afternoon. He was instead permitted to return to class with a backpack investigators believe contained the handgun used to kill four students and wound six other victims, including a teacher. The backpack also contained a hand-written journal in which the teenager detailed his plans.

Matthews is expected to hear the motion in court on Wednesday, along with a “no-notoriety” request from the prosecutor’s office that their son’s name be excluded from any court proceeding or records, where possible, because he had written how he expected to be recognized for the shooting. He has also apparently taken pleasure from attention he has received since the shooting and at the jail even inquired about the whereabouts of his “fan mail,” jail officials said.

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