Parents of Michigan school shooter ask for their own trials to be separated

The prosecution claims the Crumbley parents have been at odds since the beginning of the trial

Graig Graziosi
Monday 13 November 2023 21:04 GMT
Related video: Michigan school shooting: Mother texted Ethan Crumbley ‘Don’t do it’

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James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of Oxford school shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley, have requested to have their cases severed and tried separately, according to a new court filing.

The lawyers for the Crumbley parents have reportedly asked a judge to sever the couple's upcoming trial. They have both been charged with involuntary manslaughter in relation to the Oxford mass shooting carried out by their son. The parents’ attorneys are arguing that new information has been found that could be prejudicial to both of their cases.

At least two witnesses for the prosecution have come forward with information that could harm one or both of the parents, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press.

"Upon review of the recently provided discovery, it is apparent that a conflict exists," Meriell Lehman, the defence attorney representing James Crumbley, wrote in a filing. "Severance of the trials of the defendants is necessary as the prosecution intends to call one or both of the witnesses."

The Crumbleys are the first parents of a mass shooter to face criminal charges in relation to their child's attack. They have been accused of buying their son the weapon he used in the shooting, which left four students dead and seven other people injured.

They have also been accused of ignoring signs that their son was facing severe mental health issues and not alerting the school to the fact that he had a weapon when they had the opportunity to do so.

Though there is no information available to suggest a plea deal is being organised, severing the couple's cases would allow for prosecutors to attempt to flip one parent against the other.

The new witnesses spoke to police on 31 October, though it is unclear what exactly they told law enforcement.

"Upon reviewing the new discovery, severance of the defendants in this case is now necessary as the prosecution intends to call one or both of the witnesses," Shannon Smith, Ms Crumbley's defense attorney, wrote in a filing.

In this Feb. 8, 2022, photo, Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, a teenager accused of killing four students in a shooting at Oxford High School, appear in court in Rochester Hills, Mich
In this Feb. 8, 2022, photo, Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, a teenager accused of killing four students in a shooting at Oxford High School, appear in court in Rochester Hills, Mich (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Both attorneys insisted that the severance was "necessary" to prevent prejudice "that will impact the substantial rights of both spouses."

The prosecution is not fighting the request for severance, though it maintains that the conflict between the spouses is not a new development.

"While the new [witness] interviews provide evidence that is damaging to both defendants and highlights the conflict ... it is not a new issue," Assistant Prosecutor Marc Keast wrote in a response to the filing on Monday. "This conflict has been apparent since the outset of this case."

He said that while separate trials are likely justified, they do present downsides to essentially everyone in the case, including the defendants.

"Separate trials in this case come at significant cost to victims, witnesses, taxpayers, and the additional jurors who will serve," Mr Keast wrote. "But the Constitution affords the defendant that right, and the People agree that the defendant is entitled to a separate trial."

Prosecutors revealed earlier this month that jail communications from Ms Crumbley found her "placing blame" on her husband for their son's attack.

The defense claimed at the time that the prosecution was trying to portray the Crumbley parents as at odds, which Ms Crumbley's attorney denied at the time.

"The obvious goal of the prosecution at this point is to try to create a rift between the defendants and defense counsel and to make it appear to the public … that the Crumbleys are not united. This could not be more untrue," she wrote in a response.

Both parents have been jailed on a $500,000 bond and, if convicted, could each face up to 15 years in prison.

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