Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, February 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Parents of accused Michigan school shooter denied lower bond

Defense lawyers for James and Jennifer Crumbley vowed they would keep trying to get the pair out of jail ahead of a trial that will most likely begin in the fall.

ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. (CN) — The parents of Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old sophomore accused of killing four and injuring several others in a shooting spree at his Michigan high school last year, were back in court for a brief hearing Tuesday in which they were unsuccessful in lowering their bond.

Both Jennifer and James Crumbley answered “yes, your honor” several times as Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl A. Matthews began with detailed reasons for why using the same law firm to defend themselves could lead to a conflict of interest. The couple acknowledged they met with independently appointed attorneys and said they were comfortable with the current setup.

Matthews then methodically went through the history of each Crumbley, both of whom have a drunken driving offense on their record but no other documented history of substance abuse or violence.

“These charges are obviously very serious, the sentencing guidelines…indicate a prison term,” the judge said. She went on to say it was too difficult to gauge the outcome of the charges against them at the present time.

Matthews relied on damning testimony at previous bond hearings and added that the now-unemployed couple sold their house in Michigan to cover legal fees, so they have no local ties. She said inconsistencies in cooperating with law enforcement were also too significant to ignore.

“Defendants' actions were premediated to conceal their whereabouts,” she said. “The defendants were fleeing the jurisdiction.”

Defense lawyers said they would appeal the decision in effort to seek pretrial release for their clients and would also seek to change the venue in future filings.

Matthews said she has cases “stacked to the ceiling” due to pandemic-related delays but is determined to give the couple a trial as soon as she can. The judge stopped short of issuing a scheduling order but was hopeful for a start date of Oct. 24.

The couple was bound over for trial in late February at the end of a marathon preliminary evidentiary hearing.

“The court finds that the deaths of the four victims could have been avoided if James and Jennifer Crumbley exercised ordinary care and judgment,” Oakland County District Court Judge Julie H. Nicholson concluded at the February hearing.  

Text messages disclosed at the time appeared to show the teenager was hallucinating, hearing voices and asking his parents for help.

"I’m going to tell them about the voices," Ethan reportedly texted a friend on April 5, 2021, months before the Nov. 30 shooting at Oakland High School.

James Crumbley’s lawyer Shannon Smith of Smith Lehman said there were no text messages that suggested the parents - who have each been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter - knew their son would go on a shooting rampage.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald countered by saying Jennifer and James were “grossly negligent” and read off several text messages from Ethan that were ignored by Jennifer, including one that said, “Can you at least text me back?”

“It was preventable,” McDonald said of the shooting. “It cannot be ignored.”

Ethan agreed to waive his right to a preliminary examination hearing in January and has been bound over for trial to the Oakland County Circuit Court on charges of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He has pleaded not guilty.

The teen's lawyers have attempted, so far unsuccessfully, to move him from an adult jail to a juvenile setting. He is due for another examination this Thursday.

Three students were pronounced dead the day of the Oxford High School shooting and a fourth victim succumbed to his injuries the next morning. Eight others were injured, including a teacher.

Several lawsuits have been filed by the families of students wounded and killed in the shooting. The complaints accuse Oxford school officials of not doing enough to stop the massacre.

Oxford, population 3,586, is in central Oakland County, about 40 miles north of Detroit.

Categories / Criminal, Regional, Trials

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.