What the Crumbleys don't want the jury to see in the Oxford school shooting trial

·13 min read

The parents of the Oxford school shooting suspect are worried that politics may hurt their chance at getting a fair trial, particularly given what their son allegedly wrote in his journal about President Joe Biden.

"Hopefully my shooting will cause Biden to get impeached," then-15-year-old Ethan Crumbley allegedly wrote in a journal entry that was disclosed in a new court filing late Thursday.

The disclosure was made by lawyers for the teen's parents, who are fighting to prevent their son's journal, his text messages to a friend and his internet searches on school shootings from being admitted as evidence when their case goes to trial in the fall.

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James and Jennifer Crumbley also don't want the jury to hear about their alleged affairs, pot smoking or drinking habits, horse hobby or messy house — all of which has been raised by prosecutors. None of that is relevant to their case, argue their lawyers, who filed five blistering motions with the court late Thursday in which they blasted Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald over her handling of the case, accused her of trying to smear their clients and taint the jury pool by disclosing inflammatory information, and sought to derail the prosecution case.

In addition to trying to block information from being admitted as evidence, the Crumbleys' lawyers also asked a judge on Thursday to dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charges, arguing a lower court judge abused her discretion in sending the case to trial.

They also asked the judge to order McDonald to stop making public comments and holding news conferences about the Crumbleys, alleging she is tainting the jury pool by disseminating information that's meant to make the parents look bad.

Perhaps most prejudicial to the Crumbleys is their son's journal, which their lawyers warn could trigger a mistrial given the political ramblings that are in it.

The Crumbleys are facing involuntary manslaughter charges for their alleged roles in the November massacre: Prosecutors say they ignored a mentally ill son, failed to get him help, and instead bought him a gun, which police say was used in the mass shooting.

According to courtroom testimony, Ethan detailed how he would carry out the shooting in his journal, which also contains anti-Biden statements that the Crumbleys' lawyers fear could hurt their clients. They note that Ethan referred to the president in his journal as "sleepy f------ Joe Biden," and predicted that his actions will be so big that "Sleepy f---Joe Biden will have to make an apolg(y) to people."

The Crumbleys' lawyers contend that the "Sleepy Joe" phrase is "directly associated with President Trump," and that attitudes about both presidents have become so polarized in recent years that the jury may be blinded by politics.

"Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley should not be found guilty or not guilty depending on the attitudes of the jurors about Presidents Biden and Trump," defense attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman argue in court records, stressing: "Political beliefs have no legitimate role in this trial."

That's partly why the journal has to be excluded, the lawyers contend, arguing it "has the serious potential for distracting the jury from the real issues in the case."

"The materials risk the danger of turning jury deliberations into a political debate," the defense lawyers write, adding: "It would also be likely to lead to longer deliberations and possibly an endless string of hung juries, as the likelihood that all jurors would have the same attitude about the anti-Biden diatribe of (Ethan) is surely close to zero."

Journal includes racial slurs, death threats

Politics aside, here's what else troubles the Crumbleys' lawyers about Ethan's 22-page journal, which was found in his backpack on the day of the Nov. 30 shooting that left four students dead and seven other people injured, including a teacher.

According to court documents, the journal includes Ethan's "detailed plan" to commit a mass shooting at his school, racial slurs such as the N-word, and complaints about his parents, teachers, school administrators, pretty girls and students.

More: Records: Oxford school shooting suspect hoped massacre would get Biden impeached

More: James, Jennifer Crumbley lambast prosecutor over public statements, 'GMA' appearance

Among the journal entries that have raised red flags for his parents' lawyers are:

  • "I want all of America to see the darkness in me and hate me."

  • "The first victim has to be a pretty girl with a future so she can suffer just like me."

  • "I wish to hear the screams of the children as I shoot them."

  • "I will cause the biggest school shooting in Michigan’s history. I will kill everyone I f------ see," Ethan allegedly wrote. "I have fully mentally lost it after years of fighting my dark side. My parents won’t listen to me about help or a therapist."

  • "People will be talking about my shooting for years and I will make a huge impact on the United States."

  • "I want America to hear what I did."

"There is no evidence that (Ethan's) parents knew about or ever saw (his) journal," the Crumbleys' lawyers argue, noting "any reasonable person would be horrified to see that (Ethan) stated plans, such as 'the first victim has to be a pretty girl.' "

But the parents didn't know he wrote that, and shouldn't be blamed for his actions, the lawyers argue.

Son's text messages worry parents

In addition to the journal, the Crumbleys' lawyers also have asked a judge to exclude from trial Ethan's 400-plus internet searches for graphic content involving other school shootings, particularly ones in Florida, and people being killed.

They also want the judge to exclude Ethan's numerous text messages to a friend in the months before the shooting, in which he vented about his parents.

"They make me feel like I'm the problem," Ethan texted the friend one night. "My mom makes everyone feel like a piece of s---. I actually asked my dad to take me to the doctor the other day, and he just gave me some pills and said to 'suck it up.' My mom laughed when I told her."

Ethan also allegedly sent the same friend a text about a bird's head he was hiding under his bed.

"Holy s---, my mom almost found the bird head," Ethan allegedly texted his friend. "Jesus Christ my heart is pounding."

The Crumbleys are also fighting to exclude the bird's head as evidence, arguing it is inflammatory and irrelevant to the case.

Moreover, the Crumbleys argue, the journal, text messages and internet searches are all hearsay as they will not be able to cross-examine their son about what he wrote and searched for unless he takes the stand. It is not known whether Ethan will take the stand at his parents' trial, which is scheduled for October.

"There is no doubt (Ethan's) writings, texts and internet searches are extremely disturbing and upsetting. This makes them particularly unfairly prejudicial to Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley, who did not have knowledge of or write the journal, had no knowledge of or participation in sending the texts or have anything to do with (Ethan's) horrific internet searches."

Defense: Toss the charges

In yet another development this week, lawyers for the Crumbleys asked Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews to dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charges, arguing a lower court judge "abused discretion" in finding probable cause to send the case to trial.

In reaching that decision, 52-3 District Court Judge Julie Nicholson concluded that the Crumbleys could have stopped the rampage that was carried out by their "troubled" son if they had "exercised ordinary care and diligence in the care of their son."

"There was extensive testimony that Ethan Crumbley was certainly a troubled young man, and that the (parents) had knowledge of that situation. But they purchased a gun, which he believed was his and and that he was free to use," Nicholson said.

The defense alleges she was way off mark, and wants the circuit court to quash the charges.

"There is no way the prosecution can satisfy the element of gross negligence against either parent," the defense lawyers wrote.

The defense cited a 1961 Michigan Supreme Court ruling in a case that is "remarkably similar" to the Crumbleys' case. It involved a man who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for giving his car keys to a drunk man who got into a car accident that night, killing himself and another motorist.

The Supreme Court ended up vacating that conviction, concluding the man who handed over his keys was not guilty of involuntary manslaughter because he was not present when the accident happened, nor did he counsel the driver in the killing or take part in it. Rather, he was home in bed when the accident happened.

The Crumbleys' lawyers argue the same applies in the school shooting case.

"Of course, the Crumbleys did not counsel (Ethan) in the commission of the school shooting, or act jointly with him in any way; to the contrary, the Crumbleys had no knowledge that their son intended to commit multiple homicides on Nov. 30," their lawyers argue, adding:

"Certainly, if the prosecution could directly link Mr. or Mrs. Crumbley to the mass shooting, they would be prosecuted for first-degree murder as if they had directly committed the offense. However, because the prosecution cannot support such a claim, they are left attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole."

Crumbleys: Stop bad-mouthing us

James and Jennifer Crumbley have had enough of Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, if this week's court filings are any indication. Their lawyers asked a judge to order McDonald and her team to stop publicly discussing their case, stop holding news conferences and stop "revealing evidence" secured by police, alleging prosecutors are unfairly trying to smear them and taint the jury pool.

"Prosecutor McDonald is well aware that she was making an attempt to implant ideas into the minds of the public so that jurors will feel more outrage based on the untrue 'facts.' This is a tactic designed to win at all odds in violation of the Crumbleys' constitutional rights to a fair trial," defense attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman argued in a filing Thursday. "This case should be tried in the courtroom and not in the media."

The Crumbleys' lawyers lambasted McDonald over many of her public statements, alleging she is trying to make herself look good while putting the Crumbleys "in the worst possible light." They also have accused McDonald of violating professional rules of conduct by, they maintain, announcing the existence of evidence that has not been been ruled to be admissible.

The Crumbleys' lawyers especially took issue with McDonald's appearance on "Good Morning America," where she discussed Ethan Crumbley's access to the gun that his parents bought him and was allegedly used in the Nov. 30, 2021, shooting. A few days before that appearance, McDonald held a news conference and stated the the gun was unlocked in the Crumbley home.

But when asked about the gun being unlocked on "Good Morning America," McDonald stated: "No, I'm not positive because these are just allegations, but the evidence shows at this point that he does have free access to that weapon."

Both comments at the news conference and on "Good Morning America" were out of line, the Crumbleys' lawyers argue.

"Not only did the press conference contain false and misleading information, but prosecutor McDonald's office continually fails to adhere to" Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct, the defense lawyers maintain.

Among public statements that have irked the Crumbleys' lawyers: Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor Mark Keast saying: "The defendants will be convicted. Once they're convicted, they will go to prison."

Not only is that puffery, the defense maintains, but the statement violates rules of professional conduct that prohibit lawyers from making statements that they "know or reasonably should know" will prejudice a proceeding.

"Mr. Keast is not alone in making these types of inappropriate statements," the defense argues, adding McDonald also has stated that she had "100% confidence that (the prosecution) will convict the Crumbleys."

"The evidence is overwhelming and I look forward to proving that to a jury," McDonald said after a court hearing April 19.

"These types of comments have to stop," the defense argues in court filings, alleging McDonald is using the media to "garner public support for her decision to charge the parents and to ensure that the public would be saturated with the prosecutor's version of the facts."

"Jurors will not be able to 'un-know' things they have heard or seen from the prosecutor in the media," defense lawyers argue in court records.

Prosecution: Nothing new here

In a statement to the Free Press, Chief Assistant Prosecutor David Williams said on Thursday that the Crumbleys' latest series of motions "do not raise any new arguments or evidence."

"The prosecution will respond to the motions as permitted by the court at the appropriate time. The prosecution remains very confident in its case," Williams stated.

Williams' comments come on the same day that a judge ordered Ethan to remain jailed on first-degree murder and terrorism charges, concluding that's the appropriate place for the teenager, who celebrated his 16th birthday in the Oakland County Jail last month. Under a federal law, Ethan's jail status has to be reviewed every month because he is a minor.

Among the key themes that prosecutors have hammered away at is that the Crumbleys knew their son was troubled, but never got him help, even when he was texting his mom about seeing demons and hearing voices and doors slam. Moreover, they argue, the Crumbleys failed to stop a tragedy when they had the power to act, particularly on the morning of the shooting, when they were summoned to the school over a violent drawing their son had made that included a gun and the words, "The thoughts won't stop, help me."

Rather than tell the school that their son had access to a gun, prosecutors argue, the parents withheld that information and insisted he be returned to class.

While the defense argues the parents had no legal duty to do anything, the prosecution disagrees.

"The duty owed here is to prevent the community from their son intentionally harming somebody when they knew he was preoccupied with violent material, that he had access to a gun, he could use it when he wanted to and he was disturbed," McDonald said in a prior court hearing. "It's a parental duty. It goes far beyond careless. It's gross negligence."

The Crumbleys and their son are all being held in the Oakland County Jail pending the outcome of their cases. All have pleaded not guilty.

Ethan Crumbley is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and terrorism and faces life in prison if convicted.

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: What the Crumbleys don't want the jury to see in trial