Parents of accused Oxford High shooter appeal charges, seek to exclude son's texts

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Lansing – Defense attorneys for the parents of the accused Oxford High School shooter are asking the Michigan Court of Appeals to overturn pre-trial rulings that bound them over to circuit court to stand trial, and they also seek to bar their son’s journal, emails or texts to be used at their trials if those proceed.

James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of Ethan Crumbley, are each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in deaths of four Oxford High students in the Nov. 30 shooting at the school. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison. The teen is charged with multiple felony offenses that carry up to life in prison.

More:Four revelations about Crumbleys in first day of Oxford shooting hearing

Ethan Crumbley's trial is scheduled for January; the parents' trial is scheduled for Oct. 24. All of the Crumbleys are being held in the Oakland County Jail.

From left, Jennifer Crumbley, attorney Shannon Smith, attorney Mariell Lehman and James Crumbley sit during a June hearing at Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac.

In the filing, attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman argue judges abused their discretion in binding their clients over to circuit court – and that evidence regarding any knowledge of their son’s state of mind before the shooting should not have been accepted and should not be permitted at the couple's trial.

More:Oakland County prosecutor fires back at Crumbley defense claims

The prosecution has argued the Crumbleys had knowledge of their son’s emotional and mental problems and did not nothing to help him, instead purchasing a handgun for him that was later used in the shootings.

During a meeting with school officials the morning of the shooting, the parents were told Ethan had scrawled violent drawings on his homework and was seen searching for ammunition on his cellphone.

The school district says the parents never discussed the existence of the handgun and refused to remove their son from school as requested by officials. Instead, the 15-year-old was permitted to return to class with a backpack that officials say contained the handgun and ammunition used less than two hours later.

Oakland Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews recently issued a gag order against any of the attorneys in the case, including the prosecutor’s office, from discussing matters with the news media. Calls from The News to all parties for comment were declined Tuesday.

More:Attorneys for parents of accused Oxford shooter want trial moved out of Oakland Co.

The defense attorneys say there is no proof that the Crumbley parents had read their son’s journal or texts, which included several entries in which he complained they would not provide him with mental health counseling. Those statements, attorneys said, amount to hearsay because they were sent to one of the teen’s friends.

The filings argue that District Court Judge Julie Nicholson and Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews both abused their discretion in accepting testimony and evidence used to show negligence on the part of their clients. They also noted Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald was pushing the parents’ prosecution as part of a gun-owner responsibility agenda.

Defense lawyers noted after announcing the charges, McDonald said “while the shooter was the one who entered the high school and pulled the trigger, there [were] other individuals who contributed to the events on November 30th, and it’s my intention to hold them accountable as well. …It’s imperative we prevent this from happening again.”

The defense filing said the “the charges, in part, were meant to ‘send a message that gun owners have a responsibility.’”

The defense attorneys both seek oral arguments before the Court of Appeals for their respective clients, Smith for Jennifer Crumbley and Lehman for James Crumbley.

They both expressed in the filings a desire for Ethan Crumbley to testify at his parents’ trials:

“Unless Ethan Crumbley testifies at trial and can be cross-examined, there will be no way to test the reliability of the statements in the journal and the text messages to (his) friend. Ethan Crumbley makes claims within his journal and texts about how his parents did various things, that they said various things, and that he told his parents certain information. Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley dispute things that Ethan Crumbley writes and must have the ability to confront this evidence if it will be used at trial. The only witness who can explain the content of the journal and the text messages is Ethan Crumbley. If (he) does not testify, and cannot be cross-examined, the statements must be excluded." Moreover, if Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley testify in their own defense, it would be their word against the word of someone who cannot be cross-examined. If the parents do not testify, they would be convicted on the basis of words they did not author, or even know about, which were not subject to cross-examination.”

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