Oakland Co. prosecutor: "...the public and victims have a right to the truth"

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald asked a judge Wednesday to keep the trial of the parents of the Oxford High School mass shooting suspect in Oakland County and to deny other requests to quash evidence from James and Jennifer Crumbley.

The couple's son, Ethan, 16, is charged with killing four students and wounding seven others, including a teacher, in the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School. 

The couple's attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman have filed various requests to Judge Cheryl Matthews asking that the case against their clients be dismissed because they are unable to get a fair trial in Oakland County due to pretrial publicity by McDonald.

Jennifer Crumbley, left, defense attorney Mariell Lehman and James Crumbley during a hearing Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in front of Judge Cheryl Matthews in Oakland County Circuit Court. The Crumbleys want their trial held outside Oakland County, a request that is opposed by Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald.

McDonald countered with her own accusations Wednesday.

“From the moment I learned about the Oxford shooting, my focus and attention has been on holding those responsible accountable, and on advocating for our victims,” McDonald said in a statement.

“We intend to prove the allegations we’ve made against the shooter’s parents beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. The responses we filed today make clear that we will continue to be zealous advocates for all of the Oxford victims, and that we will not be distracted from that mission.”

In court filings, McDonald said “the defendants have important rights, but so do victims and the public.

“Victims have a right to a zealous advocate on their behalf,” she wrote. “The public has a right to know what happened and to try and to prevent future shootings. Above all else, the public and victims have a right to the truth.”

James and Jennifer Crumbley are both charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter because prosecutors said they purchased a handgun for their son and failed to recognize warning signs, his pleas for help and how he presented a danger to others.

The parents met with school officials on Nov. 30 about their son’s behavior, including violent bizarre drawings and searching for ammunition on his phone at school. Officials asked the parents to remove him from school and get him into some counseling but they refused, saying they had to get back to their jobs that day. Ethan Crumbley was permitted to remain in school with a backpack that officials believe contained the handgun he used less than two hours later to go on a shooting rampage.

Defense attorneys have asked the parents’ trial be moved to another county or that jurors from outside the county be brought in to hear the evidence against the Crumbleys at trial.

Attorneys also believe jurors could be unfairly swayed if they hear the contents of Ethan Crumbley’s 22-page personal journal; his texts to friends; torture-killing of baby birds; personal political and Internet habits. None of the behavior was known to his parents, attorneys insist, and described it as inadmissible hearsay which violates their clients’ rights to confrontation and would deprive them of a fair trial.

Defense attorneys also want the prosecutor's office to not discuss the Crumbleys' infidelity, horseback riding hobby and their use of marijuana and alcohol.

McDonald said all those issues show the couple was more concerned with their own selfish pursuits which contributed to their negligence of their son.

Defense lawyers don't think Ethan Crumbley's personal habits — including keeping a bird's head in a jar in his room for months and an attraction to violent video games — should also be put before the jury. McDonald said both "fueled his violent proclivities." The parents also did not monitor their son's Instagram photos or posts or question the teen about a Nazi coin he kept in his room.

"The coin and other tell-tale signs would have alerted an ordinary person that he was disturbed ..." McDonald wrote.

"The defendants' motion is consistent with the conduct that brings them before the court — they are only concerned about themselves," McDonald wrote. "The rights of the public, the prosecution and victims are inconvenient for the defendant. The truth is also inconvenient: the truth will not set the defendants free."

Defense attorneys have objected to McDonald being interviewed by the news media or making statements about the case.

McDonald said the defendants have no right to "muzzle" her over a case that raises many questions of public importance, including teen mental health; Ethan Crumbley's alleged desire for notoriety and the training of school staff and counselors in recognizing threats.

"This case is different," she wrote. "The fundamental issues are the defendants' decision to buy this disturbed son a gun, to leave it where he had ready access and then not to look for the gun or disclose its existence when they knew there was an imminent threat of great harm..."

Matthews will hold a hearing on the defense motions on June 27. Besides legal points of law, defense attorneys are asking Matthews to direct McDonald not to make public statements about any of the Crumbleys, the evidence against them “or opinions about their intentions, knowledge or guilt and to have her instruct other prosecutors or law enforcement to similarly refrain.”

The Crumbleys remain jailed on $500,000 bonds and a trial date has been set for Oct. 24. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison.

Ethan Crumbley’s trial is scheduled for Sept. 6. He is being held without bond in isolation in the Oakland County Jail and faces up to life in prison. His attorneys have indicated they will seek an insanity defense.

After the shooting investigators found the teenager’s backpack in a school bathroom containing a journal with detailed plans on committing a mass murder at the school. Attorneys said the journal also contained writings of his parents’ actions and statements; criticisms of school officials and his parents; and other disturbing entries, including how he hoped the shooting he planned would lead to President Joe Biden’s impeachment.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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