The parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley may be tried separately, a Michigan judge ruled earlier this week after two new witnesses came forward in the case.
James and Jennifer Crumbley are facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter each after their son, then 15 years old, fatally shot four high school students and injured seven others using his parents’ gun, which they have argued was locked away.
Upon review of Oct. 31 interviews with two new witnesses from Florida, “severance of the defendants in this case is now necessary as the prosecution intends to call one or both of these witnesses,” Shannon Smith, an attorney for Jennifer Crumbley, said in a Monday court filing.
Smith did not disclose what the two new witnesses said in their interviews but argued that severing the trials for James and Jennifer Crumbley would allow the court to avoid prejudice and ensure a fair trial for both defendants so that allegations made against one defendant do not impact outcomes for the other.
The prosecution agreed, writing that Jennifer Crumbley “is entitled to a fair trial because some of the evidence introduced against the codefendant [James Crumbley] at trial would be damaging to the defendant.”
Prosecutors went on to note, however, the “significant cost” to taxpayers for separating the defendants.
“Separate trials in this case come at significant cost to victims, witnesses, taxpayers and the additional jurors who will serve,” assistant prosecutor Marc Keast wrote. “But the Constitution affords the defendant that right, and the People agree that the defendant is entitled to a separate trial.”
Smith also argued in a Monday court filing that Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald engaged in misconduct in her November interview with local news outlet WXYZ, when McDonald said her office “doesn’t prosecute cases that [they] don’t believe [they] can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The defense attorney said McDonald violated the court’s rules saying lawyers in the case shall not publicly express “any opinion as to the guilt or innocence of a defendant.” Smith also argued that McDonald violated her duty as a prosecutor to ensure that the accused are “given the benefit of all reasonable doubts.”
The defense is asking Judge Cheryl Matthews to require McDonald to appear before the court “about why she failed to comply with the Court’s prior orders,” Smith wrote.
All parties in the case are subject to a gag order that prevents them from publicly discussing any details regarding allegations made against the Crumbleys.
James and Jennifer allegedly purchased a firearm for their son just before the school shooting. Jennifer Crumbley said in a social media post that the gun was a Christmas present for Ethan. The parents are also accused of coming to Oxford on the morning of the shooting and refusing to take their son home despite complaints from the school counselor’s office that he made disturbing drawings in class.
“The parents are charged with involuntary manslaughter,” McDonald said during a September hearing in Ethan’s case. “Their gross negligence in buying their obviously troubled son a gun, for not securing it safely, and then for not doing anything about it when they saw the defendants’ drawings on the day of the shooting. They are not charged for being bad parents.”
Oakland County Judge Kwame Rowe ruled in September that Ethan, now 17 years old, can be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his crimes.