The parents of accused Oxford, Michigan, school shooter Ethan Crumbley will still face multiple involuntary manslaughter charges, a judge ruled Wednesday, despite their attempts to quash the counts against them.
Judge Cheryl Matthews said a lower court had ruled correctly that Crumbley’s parents can stand trial for the charges.
Jennifer and James Crumbley were each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after their teenage son allegedly shot and killed four students and injured seven other people at Oxford High School in November.
They have both pleaded not guilty and their attorneys have argued in court documents that the charges have no legal justification and the couple should not be held responsible for the killings their son is accused of committing.
But in court filings earlier this month, prosecutors argued to keep the manslaughter charges against the parents, saying their “gross negligence allowed their son access to the murder weapon and allowed him to remain in school with that murder weapon,” adding that their negligence was a “substantial factor” in the killings.
In her ruling Wednesday, Matthews sided with prosecutors and said, “a reasonable juror could conclude that his (Ethan Crumbley’s) actions were reasonably foreseeable,” and that his parents’ actions could be seen as linked to his.
Ethan Crumbley has also pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges, including four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with attempted murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
His trial was moved to January 17, 2023, a judge announced during a pretrial hearing Thursday. He remains incarcerated at the Oakland County Jail. Crumbley’s defense attorneys have said they plan to “assert the defense of insanity at the time of the alleged offense.”
Also this week, another judge ordered the school district and sheriff’s office to comply with subpoenas to release evidence from the shooting to victim’s families, according to a copy of the decision.
Circuit Court Judge Rae Lee Chabot issued that order on Thursday after hearing arguments in court.
The decision comes in a civil lawsuit filed in January by families of students who survived or were killed in the shooting against Crumbley’s parents and school workers, alleging they were negligent in their handling of the suspect.
As part of their suit, the families subpoenaed Oxford Community Schools in March and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office in April, requesting evidence from the shooting including crime scene photos, surveillance video from the school during the shooting and the police report. The school district and sheriff’s office are not defendants in this case.
But Oakland County prosecutors have voiced concerns about the release of the evidence as they prepare for the criminal trials related to the shooting.
The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office told CNN in a statement after the ruling that it will ask to intervene in the civil case so it can ask the judge to block the release of evidence. Oakland County assistant prosecutor Marc Keast said the office is focused on prosecuting the criminal cases and doesn’t want evidence released “prematurely” that could impact those cases.
“The civil cases are also an important part of achieving justice for the victims, but we are asking that the criminal cases be allowed to proceed before more evidence is released,” Keast said. “In addition, there is substantial research and data showing that school shooters seek notoriety, as was the case for the Oxford shooter. We want to avoid any public release of video or other evidence that could inadvertently encourage future shooters.”
As of Thursday, the prosecutor’s office had not filed the motion to intervene.
An attorney representing the victims’ families, meanwhile, told CNN he is pressing to obtain the copies of evidence as quickly as possible, saying that seven months after the shooting, families are being denied access to basic information about the crime.
“The prosecutor’s office has done an excellent job of pursuing criminal charges against Ethan and his parents,” Attorney Ven Johnson told CNN. “What they haven’t done a great job of is turning over these documents that these parents are absolutely entitled to.”
David Williams, the chief assistant prosecutor, said in a statement to CNN that families and their attorneys “have been offered the opportunity to view the video and other evidence when they are ready in the security of either the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office or the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office.”
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard told CNN in a statement that he does not oppose release of evidence as long as it doesn’t cause fair trial issues.
“My singular focus and concern is for our victims and to ensure those responsible are held accountable,” Bouchard said. “In that vein, I would hope that any of the victims, families or friends who see the video would have the proper support around them as it is deeply disturbing – even to a seasoned law enforcement professional.”
“The release of it before the conclusion of criminal proceedings is acceptable as long as it does not cause any fair trial issues for those proceedings,” the sheriff added.