The parents of the Oxford school shooting suspect have reached their limit with the prosecutor and are asking a judge to sanction her for allegedly ignoring their requests to stop bad-mouthing them and calling them liars.
"Despite being called out for making inappropriate comments in the media, the prosecution continues to do so," defense lawyers for James and Jennifer Crumbley wrote in an emergency motion filed Tuesday, arguing the prosecutor's comments are tainting the jury pool.
"The prosecution continuously putting absolutely false information in the public purview, and doubling down on the misinformation when called out, is what will cause the Crumbleys to be deprived of a fair trial," attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariel Lehman argue in court documents.
The filing is the latest in what has turned into a legal shouting match between the two sides, with the defense claiming the prosecutor is crossing a line in trash-talking the parents, while the prosecution argues it has a constitutional right to speak on behalf of the victims and inform the public.
McDonald irked the defense last week when — while responding to a series of requests made by the defense — she described the parents as selfish people who "only care about themselves."
Perhaps most troublesome to the defense are McDonald's use of the word "truth," and her allegation that "the truth will not set the Crumbleys free."
"Contrary to the prosecution’s responsive arguments, they are not protected by the First Amendment to have free reign to continuously assert they are telling the “truth” and that the defense is lying," the defense argues. "Continuously touting that they are the ones bringing the public and the victims the 'truth,' they imply the defense is lying."
Also at issue for the defense is this comment by McDonald: "But [the defense] have no right to muzzle the prosecutor or the prosecution, nor to force the victims to suffer lies in misdirection until the trial."
McDonald was responding to an earlier request by the defense that a judge order the prosecution to stop publicly discussing and disclosing details about the case.
"The defense has never lied to the court, the media, or otherwise regarding the facts and circumstances of this case. The prosecution, however, has lied in claiming facts exist that do not exist," the defense wrote.
A sticking point in this case is whether the Crumbleys' son, Ethan, had "free access" to a gun, as prosecutors have alleged. The defense says this detail is not accurate, that the gun was locked, and that Ethan noted so in his journal as he wrote that he has to figure out where his dad locked the gun.
"While the prosecution claims the 'truth will not set the Crumbleys free... ' it actually will," the defense argues.
The defense is asking Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews to direct the prosecutor not to make public statements about the Crumbleys, the evidence against them “or opinions about their intentions, knowledge, or guilt.
“This needs to stop,” the defense argues.
In a statement to the Free Press on Tuesday, Marc Keast, chief of the Oakland County Circuit Court division who is assigned to the Crumbley case, stated: "Our team is focused on preparing for trial and looks forward to presenting all the evidence at the proper time in court."
The Crumbleys are facing involuntary manslaughter charges for allegedly buying their son a gun — which he allegedly used in the deadly Nov. 30 school shooting — and failing to notify the school about it when he displayed troublesome behavior in class on the day before and of the massacre.
The Crumbleys have pleaded not guilty, arguing they had no way of knowing their son would carry out a school shooting.
The prosecution disagrees, arguing there were many warning signs that their son was spiraling out of control, but that the parents ignored him because — it alleges — they were paying more attention to their personal lives.
The prosecution has portrayed the Crumbleys as self-absorbed parents who had affairs, drank heavily, smoked pot and cared more about their horse hobby than getting their "emotionally disturbed" son help.
The defense argues it's these kinds of allegations that are hurting the Crumbleys, and they want it to stop.
"Contrary to the prosecution’s position, there is authority for this court to limit the prosecution’s statements to the media," the defense argues.
Defense: McDonald knows better
Lawyers for the Crumbleys have alleged that McDonald is using the parents’ case to advance her career as this is a novel case — they are the first parents in America to be charged in a mass school shooting.
The defense has taken issue with the prosecutor’s numerous media appearances, including on "Good Morning America" and CNN, arguing most of the pretrial publicity has been about the parents’ cases, not the son’s.
The defense also alleges that McDonald is aware of her ethical and professional requirements as a prosecutor, which, they maintain, she is adhering to in her handling of the son’s case. For example, the defense cited numerous comments McDonald made when she announced charges against Ethan. Among them:
“Please understand that I cannot and they cannot disclose any details or evidence that could compromise our case. … We are ethically bound not to reveal those details.”
“There are facts leading up in the shooting that suggest this was not just an impulsive act. Those facts are not appropriate for discussion right now, because it could affect the prosecution in this case.”
“I have a professional, ethical duty not to disclose facts that will jeopardize the prosecution of the case or threaten a fair trial. Which would be the absolute worst thing for the victims of this shooting.”
When asked about the suspect’s access to the gun, she stated: “I can’t comment on it, and I want to make sure that everyone understands why. It is not that I don’t want the public to know. … But we as prosecutors are ethically bound to not reveal any statements that could jeopardize the prosecution of the case and providing a fair trial.”
The defense also has asked for a change of venue in this case, arguing their clients cannot get a fair trial in Oakland County due to the immense media coverage and pain that the community has been through.
A hearing will be held on June 27 to take up that issue, as well as others.
Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, is charged with first-degree murder and terrorism for the deaths of four classmates and injuries to seven others. He has pleaded not guilty.
All three Crumbleys are housed in the Oakland County Jail, though are prohibited from communicating with one another.
Contact Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Jennifer, James Crumbley want prosecutor Karen McDonald sanctioned