Appeals court hears arguments in case against James & Jennifer Crumbley

Posted at 7:33 AM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 18:18:16-05

(WXYZ) — A court hearing happened Tuesday morning in the Michigan Court of Appeals to determine whether James and Jennifer Crumbley will stand trial in the Oxford High School shooting.

James and Jennifer, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, who pleaded guilty to the shooting at the school that killed four students and injured seven other people, are each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Judges hear arguments in Crumbley parent appeal

The charges stem from the deaths of Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Justin Shilling, 17, Tate Myre, 16 and Hana St. Juliana, 14. They were killed by Ethan during the shooting at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021. Seven other people, including a teacher, were also shot and injured.

In February 2022, a judge bound over James and Jennifer after a preliminary examination, saying there was enough evidence for them to stand trial. However, their lawyers appealed the ruling, and in November 2022, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a stay on the case and sent it back to the Court of Appeals.

During the hearing, defense attorneys argued that the prosecution "failed to point to a single case where a person can he held responsible for the planned and deliberate acts of another person."

Judges were asking many questions to the defense attorneys, asking if there were warning signs and more.

They also asked the prosecutors about the standard that could be set by charging parents whose children committed a crime.

The Crumbleys were expected to go to trial on the charges in January, but this ruling will likely delay the trial from starting.

Justice Richard Bernstein dissented from the Supreme Court's order, saying that the appeals process is designed so these issues are taken up after trial.

"Moreover, addressing causation at this stage will unnecessarily delay the trial proceedings, which are set to begin in January. In order to avoid needless delay, I would prefer to remand to the Court of Appeals simply for that court to reconsider defendant’s challenge to the denial of the motion to quash in light of the concern articulated in Yost, as I believe any substantive questions pertaining to causation should not be addressed until after trial is complete," Berstein wrote in the ruling from November.

Prosecutors claim the two failed to intervene when their son showed signs of mental distress, including making disturbing drawings prior to the shooting.

The preliminary exams gave a glimpse into the lives of James and Jennifer Cumbley as witnesses talked about their marriage, day-to-day lives, work-life, and each parent's perceived relationship with Ethan.

Through multiple witness testimonies, the prosecution painted a picture of a couple focused on their horses, and at times dating outside their marriage, while their son battled disturbing and violent thoughts.

A detective working the case also pointed out their son’s social media posts seem to brag about the gun his parents allegedly bought for him. That same gun was used on Nov. 30 to kill four of his classmates.

The case has been in the headlines over the past year for several reasons. In June 2022, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald blasted James and Jennifer Crumbley in court filings. She said the parents "are concerned only about themselves" and said that they have been making personal attacks on the prosecutor.

It came after the defense filed motions that aimed to get the case moved from Oakland County, and also accused the prosecutor's office of releasing too much information to the media and talking badly about their clients.

In October 2022, Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including one count of terrorism and four counts of first-degree murder, in the Oxford High School shooting.

“Ethan Crumbley’s guilty plea is one small step forward on a long path towards obtaining full justice for our clients. We will continue to fight until the truth is revealed about what went wrong leading up to this tragedy, and who, including Crumbley’s parents and multiple Oxford Community Schools employees, could have and should have prevented it,” said attorney Ven Johnson, who is representing several victim families.

After he pleaded guilty, Crumbley's attorney Paulette Loftin said Ethan is remorseful for the deadly shooting.

"He's taking accountability for his actions," said Loftin.

“I just feel like this is one less thing we have to worry about,” Nicole Beausoleil, the mother of Madisyn Baldwin said.

A first-degree murder conviction typically brings an automatic life prison sentence in Michigan, but teenagers are entitled to a hearing at which their lawyer can argue for a shorter term and an opportunity for parole.

The teenager withdrew his intent to pursue an insanity defense, and repeatedly acknowledged that he understands the potential penalties. Deborah McKelvy, his court-appointed guardian, told Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Kwame Rowe that she had met with him Thursday at the county jail, and believes he fully understands the consequences.