Jennifer and James Crumbley want Oakland County prosecutor sanctioned for 'liars' comment

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — Defense attorneys for the parents of the accused Oxford High shooting suspect filed emergency motions Tuesday seeking sanctions against Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald for alleged “unethical and inappropriate” statements and pretrial publicity.

Attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman represent Jennifer and James Crumbley, respectively, both charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Nov. 30 deaths of four students investigators say were fatally wounded by their teenage son, Ethan Crumbley. All three Crumbleys are in the Oakland County Jail pending their trials.

In Tuesday’s court filing, Smith and Lehman objected to McDonald accusing them of “lying” and providing false statements to the public and news media and “doubling down on misinformation” they say will deprive the Crumbley parents to their constitutional right of a fair trial.

More:Crumbleys want some evidence barred from Oxford shooting trial

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

From left, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, attorney Shannon Smith, Jennifer Crumbley, 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 defense attorneys want Oakland Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews to direct McDonald not to make public statements about any of the Crumbleys, the evidence against them or offer opinions about “intentions, knowledge or guilt.” They want McDonald to be sanctioned in a way Matthews deems fair. 

The lawyers also want Matthews to instruct other prosecutors or law enforcement to similarly refrain. A hearing on defense motions is scheduled for June 27.

When asked to react to the latest defense filings, Assistant Prosecutor Marc Keast said, “Our team is focused on preparing for trial and we look forward to presenting all of the evidence at the proper time in court.”

Keast also said the motion labeled “emergency” was submitted to the court Monday evening, but no one was officially served until Tuesday morning.

At the center of the arguments is how the Crumbley parents purchased their son, 15 at the time, a handgun and refused to remove him from school when called to the school by officials concerned about the son’s behavior.

The teenager, a sophomore, was permitted to return to class following the meeting between officials and the parents, and less than two hours later, allegedly exited a restroom and began firing a weapon, killing four students and wounding six others and a teacher, before he was taken into custody.

Crumbley, now 16 is charged with offenses that are mandatory life felonies, including murder. His parents, if convicted of their charges, could face up to 15 years in prison for gross negligence, providing their son with free access to the weapon and failing to warn anyone of its existence.

The parents met with school officials on Nov. 30 about their son’s behavior, including violent 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 return to class with a backpack officials allege contained the handgun he used less than two hours later to go on a shooting rampage.

Last month, Smith and Lehman filed various requests to Matthews complaining how the case should be dismissed against their clients because they are unable to get a fair trial in Oakland County due to pre-trial publicity by McDonald, who defended her words and countered with her own accusations last week describing the parents as neglecting their son's emotional problems because they were more concerned with their horseback riding hobby, and extramarital affairs.

When criticized by the couple, McDonald dug in — explaining her role as a prosecutor and her own objections about facts leading up to the shooting.

“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 an earlier 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 multi-page responses from court records, 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.”

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

Attorneys also believe jurors could be unfairly swayed hearing 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 that violates their clients’ rights to confrontation and deprives them of a fair trial.

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 pending an Oct. 24 trial date.

Ethan Crumbley’s trial is scheduled for Sept. 6. His attorneys have indicated they will seek an insanity defense for their client.

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.

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