Prosecutor: Oxford school shooter hearing must be open to the public

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Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald speaks Dec. 3 in Pontiac.
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald speaks Dec. 3 in Pontiac.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald is pushing for transparency in the Oxford High Scholl shooting case, saying the public and media should not be locked out of an upcoming hearing involving the teenage suspect's jail status.

"In a case involving a mass shooting such as this, there are hundreds of victims looking to our criminal justice system for accuracy; openness and transparency are critical," McDonald wrote in a court filing this week. "The proceeding should be open to the public and the media."

McDonald is referring to a Feb. 22 hearing that has been set to discuss the incarceration status of 15-year-old shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley, and whether he should be moved out of an adult jail and placed in a juvenile detention center.

Crumbley is currently being held without bond in the Oakland County Jail on terrorism and first-degree murder charges, though his lawyers have argued that he should be moved into a youth detention center, where, they maintain, his needs can be better met.

Ethan Crumbley, the teen accused of the Oxford School Shooting has waived his right to a probable cause hearing  on Jan. 7, 2022, in the 52-3 courtroom of Judge Carniak in Rochester Hills. Crumbley's case will now be bound over to circuit court.
Ethan Crumbley, the teen accused of the Oxford School Shooting has waived his right to a probable cause hearing on Jan. 7, 2022, in the 52-3 courtroom of Judge Carniak in Rochester Hills. Crumbley's case will now be bound over to circuit court.

At issue for the defense is a federal statute that says juveniles housed in adult jails cannot be within "sight" or "sound" of adult inmates, which Crumbley's lawyers say is not possible.

During a pretrial conference Wednesday, Oakland County Circuit Judge Kwame Rowe asked both sides to weigh in on whether the media should be allowed to cover the "entire" hearing, noting "sensitive information" may come out.

Rowe gave both sides a Jan. 25 deadline to file their briefs, legal arguments, on the topic.

The prosecution, which filed its brief on Thursday, has objected to moving Ethan Crumbley to a juvenile center, saying he is a danger to others given his alleged crime. Prosecutors have described the teenager as a depressed, troubled and homicidal teen who allegedly tortured animals, loved guns, hallucinated and was fascinated with Nazi propaganda.

A district court judge concluded that jail is the appropriate place for Ethan Crumbley, though the issue will be raised again in circuit court where the federal statute, known as the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, will be further examined.

That statute also requires that a court must hold a hearing once every 30 days to review whether placing the minor in an adult facility is in the best interest of justice.

Deborah McKelvy, a guardian ad litem assigned to Crumbley, has said that while she understands "the severity of what occurred," she believes a youth facility is more fitting, where the teen could go to school and get more help with what he's going through.

"I do have concerns for him and his mental and emotional wellbeing," McKelvy has previously argued in court. "The jail is not conducive, not designed for juveniles."

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The defense team has urged the courts to consider sending Ethan Crumbley to Children's Village in Pontiac where he could attend school and have "more human services to help him through this."

An Oakland County sheriff's deputy instructs Jennifer Crumbley to put her mask back up. The parents of accused Oxford High School gunman Ethan Crumbley, Jennifer and James Crumbley are in the 52-3 District Courtroom of Judge Julie Nicholson in Rochester on Dec. 14, 2021, for a probable cause conference in their cases after being charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The Crumbleys are represented by attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman.
An Oakland County sheriff's deputy instructs Jennifer Crumbley to put her mask back up. The parents of accused Oxford High School gunman Ethan Crumbley, Jennifer and James Crumbley are in the 52-3 District Courtroom of Judge Julie Nicholson in Rochester on Dec. 14, 2021, for a probable cause conference in their cases after being charged with involuntary manslaughter. The Crumbleys are represented by attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman.

Crumbley is accused of using a gun that his parents bought him as an early Christmas present to shoot up Oxford High School in a Nov. 30 massacre that left four students dead and seven others injured, including a teacher. He is accused of fatally shooting Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Justin Shilling, 17.

Crumbley's parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, also have been charged in the case with involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors allege the Crumbley parents failed to get their depressed son help when he was spiraling out of control, but instead bought him a gun that he "desperately" wanted and failed to keep it properly stored.

The Crumbleys have maintained they are not responsible for the school shooting, that they kept the gun properly stored, and that they had no way of knowing their son would use it to open fire at school.

Separately, a civil lawsuit seeking $100 million has been filed against the school district on behalf of a student who was shot in the neck and survived, and her younger sister who watched it happen.

The lawsuit alleges that the school district put students in harm's way by ignoring signs of a troubled teen who was allowed to return to class after exhibiting troubling behavior in class, both on the day of the shooting and the day before.

According to police and the prosecution, Ethan Crumbley was seen in class browsing for ammunition on his cellphone a day before the massacre. The next day, he was found with a note depicting a semiautomatic handgun with the words, "The thoughts won't stop. Help me," and a sketch of someone bleeding.

His parents were summoned, and a meeting with counselors and their son followed. The parents resisted taking him out of school. He was sent back to class with his backpack, which police said they believe contained the gun used in the deadly shooting.

According to school officials, Ethan Crumbley explained that the drawing of the gun and blood was part of a video game design, and that counselors did not believe he might harm others based on his "behavior, responses and demeanor," so they let him return to class.

Later that day, police said, video cameras from inside the school showed Ethan Crumbley emerge from a bathroom and open fire in a hallway. The shooting lasted for about five minutes before Ethan Crumbley surrendered to law enforcement.

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Prosecutor: Oxford school shooter's case must remain open to public

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