Parents of Oxford High suspect created 'pathway to violence,' prosecutor says

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald is asking a circuit judge to permit evidence in the trial of the parents of the accused Oxford High shooter because it allegedly reveals “they had a role in creating a pathway to violence for the shooter.”

In a motion to Judge Cheryl Matthews this week, McDonald wrote James and Jennifer Crumbley “played a much larger role than just buying their son a gun and there were many potential acts of ordinary care beyond simply locking up that gun that could have prevented this shooting.” 

McDonald wrote how Ethan Crumbley, dating back to the age of six years old, was exposed to parental arguments, alcohol and substance abuse, and marital infidelity. Purchases at a local liquor store totalled nearly $4,000 in the year of 2021 alone, according to the filing.

Mathews ruled in June that the parents' horseback-riding activities, possible marital infidelity and the presence of alcohol or marijuana in the home were inadmissible as evidence. It came after the Crumbleys' attorneys argued that personal matters regarding the couple — such as extramarital affairs — are not relevant to the charges against them and should not be heard by the jury.

Defense attorneys have indicated they plan to call Ethan Crumbley to testify in their respective cases. 

McDonald’s argument focused on how the jury needs information on the household created over years by the parents, “the household their son was born into, raised, and where he ultimately formed his plan to terrorize the community.”

“…this evidence fits squarely within the shooter’s pathway to violence,” McDonald wrote. “It is important to note that each piece of this evidence, taken in a vacuum, does not prove gross negligence. It is the cumulative effect of it, taken together that sheds light on the environment created by the defendants and the backdrop for their actions and inaction in the days immediately leading up to the shooting.”

James and Jennifer Crumbley are each facing four charges of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Hana St. Juliana, Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre and Justin Shilling — all victims of the Nov. 30 in their school allegedly by fellow classmate Ethan Crumbley, then 15 years old. The Crumbleys could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the offenses.

The Crumbleys, who in their own legal filings have identified the son as the responsible shooter, have claimed they had no reason to expect their son was dangerous or that they could have prevented the shooting from occurring. They have referred to his actions as his “insanity” and the teenager’s attorneys have indicated they will seek an insanity defense for their client.

Crumbley’s parents have been charged because of alleged gross negligence that included them purchasing him a handgun and purportdly providing access to it as well as disregarding his need for psychiatric counseling despite his pleas for help.

McDonald wants an opportunity to have oral arguments on what evidence should be permitted at the couple’s Oct. 24 trials. No pretrial hearing is scheduled yet.

But McDonald appears to be using a new argument in a bid to get some of the blocked evidence readmitted for trial.

The FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit has recognized that the “pathway to violence” is a “set of behaviors” leading up to an act of targeted violence, such as a mass shooting. The model has been studied by law enforcement, universities and researchers as a “risk assessment and management tool” McDonald wrote.

In her filing, McDonald wrote Matthews how the parents allegedly:

  • "Exposed their son to years of chaotic, toxic conflict” in which his “violent tendencies flourished.”
  • Were aware he was troubled, complaining of demons but instead of seeking counseling they “bought him a gun.”
  • "Were not just in constant conflict, or who just exposed their son to conflict but who actively inserted him into the conflict.”

“The evidence demonstrates the defendants’ priorities were anywhere but on their son,” McDonald wrote. “…defendants would loudly argue between themselves on a consistent basis, so much so much that neighbors in Oxford, Lake Orion and even as far back as when they lived in the state of Washington distinctly remembered it.”

The son’s text messages and entries in a person journal corroborate he was frequently “put him squarely in the middle of parental disagreements.”

Investigators have interviewed neighbors and others who said the couple fought and drank to excess, oftentimes leaving their son unsupervised,” McDonald wrote.

Evidence shows the Crumbleys spent “thousands of dollars on food deliveries, alcohol and horse-related expenses, compared with negligible amounts on medical care, all while their son was manifesting signs of mental distress, expressing those manifestations to the defendants, and asking them for help,” McDonald wrote.

The prosecutor quoted from the teenager’s own journal: “My grades are failing, my parents hate each other, we have no money, I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the f------ school…”

In another journal entry: “This morning I woke up to my mom having one of her worst rants about how we have no money and can’t pay the bills. This just furthers my desire to shoot up the school or do something else. I have no happiness (sic) or optimisum (sic) left in me as I am a burden to my parents.”

Expert testimony concerning the “pathway to violence” will assist jurors in understanding the why of mass shootings, not just the what, McDonald wrote. This will include examining assessing threatening or concerning behaviors and risk factors exhibited by the teenager and others, McDonald wrote Matthews, showing how shootings are not unavoidable tragedies but if risk factors are identified and addressed, are preventable.

Because of a gag order by Matthews, neither the defense attorneys nor the prosecutor could discuss matters raised in McDonald’s 22-page legal brief to Matthews. 

Ethan Crumbley faces multiple felony offenses that can carry up to life in prison. He remains in isolation from adult inmates in the Oakland County Jail and is not expected to go to trial until Jan. 17.

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