ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. (CN) — Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of a 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 Monday for a hearing on a request to change of venue, the amount of evidence that will be permissible and pretrial publicity.
Recent court filings have revealed growing tensions between the parties with the Crumbleys' lawyers requesting sanctions against Oakland County Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald, who they accuse of asking inappropriate questions during pretrial hearings and taking a “media tour” to spread inaccurate statements that will deprive them of a fair trial.
“They are not protected by the First Amendment to have free reign to continuously assert they are telling the truth and the defense is lying,” a court motion from the defense states.
Granting the motion to restrict publicity, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl A. Matthews sided with the defense over the prosecution's arguments that inaccurate media stories should be addressed.
“Correcting untruths is a desire of the prosecution, not a duty,” Matthews said.
She added, “Any and all statements made about this case by the prosecution and its agents and the defendants and their agents will be made solely to the court, either on the record or in chambers, with all parties present…otherwise no statements will be made by the parties or their agents. This includes all forms of media.”
Defense lawyers also sought a change of venue since they believe “the media coverage has already convicted Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley in the court of public opinion” among Oakland County residents.
Matthews was reluctant to order the venue change, saying a move should be reserved for extreme situations and she hoped to at least try to seat a jury before considering a change.
“The number of prospective potential jurors who might have been directly affected by the Oxford shooting alone is not enough to warrant a change of venue before conducting voir dire. Oakland County is not a small community and is sufficiently diverse to weigh against a finding of presumed prejudice,” she concluded.
The parties also spared over what kind of evidence will be allowed into the Crumbleys' involuntary manslaughter trial, including journal entries and text messages made by their son and accused shooter Ethan Crumbley, some of which were read by Matthews in court.
“I want help, but my parents don’t listen to me so I can’t get any help…I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the fucking school,” Matthews quoted Ethan as writing.
The judge said Michigan laws allow the messages to be entered into the record because it can demonstrate the mental condition of a person.
“These are all relevant to the shooter’s state of mind and thus admissible,” she said.
Matthews partially agreed with the defense that certain evidence presented by the prosecution was irrelevant when she denied the admissibility of a rumored extramarital affair by Jennifer Crumbley.
“The evidence that defendant Jennifer Crumbley is seeing someone outside of her marriage during work hours…is unfair prejudicial character evidence and not probative of an alleged dereliction of parental duty,” she said.
Matthews refused to admit a Nazi coin allegedly held by Ethan since it was not certain the parents knew about it, nor would she allow the fact that the Crumbley home was messy with evidence of marijuana use. Matthews said that disturbing Instagram posts made from second and third accounts made by Ethan would not be admitted since the parents likely did not know about them.
The judge did agree to allow evidence that the Crumbley parents allowed their son to play violent video games that the prosecution allege fueled his homicidal thoughts.
“Evidence that the shooter may have played these games is relevant as it may have some tendency to make the existence of a fact more probable,” she said.
In April, Matthews denied a request to lower the Crumbleys' bond, noting the unemployed couple sold their house in Michigan to cover legal fees and were inconsistent in cooperating with law enforcement.
The couple was bound over for trial in late February at the end of a preliminary evidentiary hearing that stretched over two non-consecutive days.
The judge hoped to start the trial on Oct. 24. Both parties told Matthews the date was fine for now but may need to be moved in the future. Ethan Crumbley’s trial was postponed until early next year at a brief hearing last Thursday.
Ethan agreed to waive his right to a preliminary examination hearing in January and was 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 pleaded not guilty.
His parents have each been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
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 as well as not adapting new policies to handle troubled students.
Oxford, population 3,586, is in central Oakland County, about 40 miles north of Detroit.
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.