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Michigan’s high court pauses Crumbley parents’ case, sends it back to lower court

Nov. 29, 2022 Updated Tue., Nov. 29, 2022 at 8:56 p.m.

An Oakland County Sheriff uncuffs Jennifer Crumbley during a pre-trial hearing in front of Judge Cheryl Matthews at the Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Michigan, on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. She and her husband, James Crumbley, have been charged in the 2021 mass shooting their son perpetrated at a Michigan high school.   (Max Ortiz/The Detroit News/TNS)
An Oakland County Sheriff uncuffs Jennifer Crumbley during a pre-trial hearing in front of Judge Cheryl Matthews at the Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Michigan, on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. She and her husband, James Crumbley, have been charged in the 2021 mass shooting their son perpetrated at a Michigan high school.  (Max Ortiz/The Detroit News/TNS)
By Robert Snell The Detroit News

DETROIT – The Michigan Supreme Court on Tuesday sent the involuntary manslaughter case of the parents of accused Oxford High shooter Ethan Crumbley back to the Court of Appeals to consider whether there was sufficient evidence for James and Jennifer Crumbley to stand trial.

The Michigan Court of Appeals in September rejected the appeal filed by attorneys for James and Jennifer Crumbley that requested a stay on their case and for some evidence, including their son’s journals and text messages, be considered inadmissible in the case against them in Oakland Circuit Court.

“This is a big deal because, in theory, the Court of Appeals could dismiss the entire case if they feel there is not enough evidence that the parents’ conduct caused the deaths of the Oxford students,” Birmingham defense lawyer Wade Fink told The Detroit News.

Tuesday’s order, filed a day before the one-year anniversary of the Oxford school massacre that killed four high school students, will delay the parents’ trial in January.

Justice Richard Bernstein dissented, citing “needless delay” of the parents’ case and upcoming trial.

“While I recognize that this case raises a number of novel legal issues, the appellate process is designed such that many of those issues are more appropriately considered after trial, if necessary,” Bernstein wrote.

“I believe that considering whether the prosecutor has presented sufficient evidence of causation to support the bindover of (the parents) here before trial will not provide the Court of Appeals with a full picture of the relevant evidence and testimony,” Bernstein added.

The parents’ lawyer, Shannon Smith, declined comment Tuesday. There was no immediate comment from the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office.

The parents each face four involuntary manslaughter charges connected to the deaths of four Oxford High students: Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17. Their son pleaded guilty to their deaths.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald took the rare step of charging the parents, making the argument they were grossly negligent in buying their then-15-year-old son a handgun and ignoring his mental state.

The parents’ attorneys argued in the appeal to the state’s highest court that they had no reason to believe their son posed a threat to himself or others, therefore they are not legally on the line for anything their son has done. The filing does place blame for the deaths solely on Ethan.

The attorneys also argued that certain entries in Ethan Crumbley’s journals and text messages to friends where he talks about how he needs mental help are hearsay and would only serve to prejudice a jury. Some of the texts and entries show their son noting his pleas for help from his parents going ignored.

The attorneys also argue that certain entries in Ethan Crumbley’s journals and text messages to friends where he talks about how he needs mental help are hearsay and would only serve to prejudice a jury. Some of the texts and entries show their son noting his pleas for help from his parents going ignored.

Experts told The Detroit News it’s rare for the parents of suspected school shooters to face related charges, but McDonald said at the time that the charges are meant to send a clear message, that gun owners are responsible for their firearms and have an obligation to do what they can to prevent tragedy.

“I have no doubt that the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office was thoughtful about these issues before charging,” Fink said. “I don’t think this is a surprise to them because these were issues they considered before charging.”

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