Accused Oxford shooter could be called to testify in his parents' manslaughter trial

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — Defense attorneys for the parents of accused school-shooter Ethan Crumbley plan to call the couple's son as a witness in the involuntary manslaughter trial of of James and Jennifer Crumbley. Their 16-year-old son is charged with killing four students and wounding six others in a Nov. 30 shooting spree at Oxford High School.

Prosecutors say gross negligence by the parents helped lead to the tragedy at the school in northeast Oakland County.

"They (James and Jennifer Crumbley) aren't planning on throwing him (Ethan) under the bus," defense attorney  Shannon Smith told Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews on Monday. "But he could be called to provide information related to events leading up to the shooting."

The disclosure came on the same day that Matthews rejected a request to move court proceedings out of the county in the parents' trial scheduled for Oct. 24. But Matthews did rule that certain evidence was irrelevant and inadmissible in that trial.

Smith and co-defense attorney Mariell Lehman earlier had filed legal motions arguing that James and Jennifer Crumbley wouldn't get a fair trial because of intense media coverage and prejudicial comments made by the prosecution.

Oakland County is large enough and the population is diverse enough to guard against any pretrial publicity, Matthews said from the bench.

From left, Jennifer Crumbley, attorney Shannon Smith, attorney Mariell Lehman, and James Crumbley sit during a hearing in the courtroom of Judge Cheryl Matthews, Monday, June 27, 2022 at Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac.

Matthews on Monday ordered that no comments to be made outside court about the case by either the prosecution or defense attorneys.

Matthews said she felt the teenager's journal and cellphone and Instagram records all contained relevant evidence that could be used at the parents' trial. Evidence she felt was inadmissible and irrelevant included the parents horseback-riding activities, possible marital infidelity and the presence of alcohol or marijuana — both legal substances — in the home. She also excluded discovery of a Nazi coin in the teenager's bedroom or a bird's head in a jar he kept at home for months and took to school.

Matthews said evidence needed to show gross negligence by the parents would have to establish that it contributed to a "failure to provide a legal duty" in their supervision of their son.

"I know not everyone is going to be happy with my decisions," Matthews said. "You can always file with the Michigan Court of Appeals."

James and Jennifer Crumbley are charged with involuntary manslaughter for what prosecutors allege was gross negligence including purchasing a handgun for their son, not securing the weapon, not removing him from the school when notified of disturbing behavior and not advising school officials of the handgun.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald and assistant prosecutor Marc Keast told Matthews they were ready to go to trial whenever the judge decided. Keast said they would like to avoid holding the trial on the anniversary of the Nov. 30 shooting. The defense said Monday that their scheduled Oct. 24 trial date may not be realistic.

More: Crumbleys want some evidence barred from Oxford shooting trial

More: Parents of Oxford teen may seek to have trial moved from Oakland County

The Crumbleys remain jailed pending their trial. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com