Prosecutor: Jennifer Crumbley blames husband for son's school shooting

The Oakland County Prosecutor's Office suggests that Jennifer Crumbley may turn on her husband in their upcoming trial involving the Oxford school shooting, if its latest filing is any indication.

"James Crumbley should be aware of the fact that (his wife) Jennifer Crumbley has placed blame on him in jail communications," Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Marc Keast wrote in a new filing.

This disclosure is part of a broader controversy that surfaced last week, when the defense accused the prosecution of trying to make it look like the Crumbleys are not on the same page as they head to trial for their alleged roles in the 2021 Oxford High School shooting carried out by their son. Four students died; six other students and a teacher were injured.

"The obvious goal of the prosecution at this point is to try to create a rift between the defendants and defense counsel and to make it appear to the public … that the Crumbleys are not united. This could not be more untrue," defense attorney Shannon Smith wrote in a filing Friday.

Jennifer Crumbley, sat to the left of attorney Mariell Lehman as her husband, James Crumbley sat to the right in the Oakland County courtroom of Judge Cheryl Matthews on March 22, 2022, regarding pretrial matters.
Jennifer Crumbley, sat to the left of attorney Mariell Lehman as her husband, James Crumbley sat to the right in the Oakland County courtroom of Judge Cheryl Matthews on March 22, 2022, regarding pretrial matters.

Prosecution has complained about parents' approach to defense

The Crumbleys, who bought their son the gun that he used in the rampage, are the first parents in America charged in a mass school shooting. Prosecutors allege the parents ignored a mentally ill son who was spiraling out of control, bought him a gun instead of getting him help, and never told the school about that gun when they had a chance.

With their involuntary manslaughter trial 11 weeks away, a thorny issue in the case has resurfaced for the Crumbleys: their defense strategy. James and Jennifer Crumbley each have their own lawyer, but have mounted a joint defense since their arrests. Prosecutors have long been concerned with this arrangement, arguing it creates a conflict of interests that could trigger a mistrial, especially if the parents turn on each other or present conflicting stories.

More: Michigan Supreme Court refuses to hear case of James and Jennifer Crumbley

The defense lawyers have maintained that that's not going to happen and have had their clients sign conflict-of-interest waivers acknowledging just that before each hearing.

Attorneys Mariell Lehman, left, and Shannon Smith make their way to court to defend James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, who carried out the deadly school shooting at Oxford High School in November 2021. The couple faces involuntary manslaughter charges for allegedly buying the gun that the police say their son used in the shooting.

In a series of emails between both sides last week, court records show, the prosecution raised this issue again with the defense lawyers, maintaining it has new reasons to believe a conflict issue remains and must be addressed to avoid a potential mistrial. The prosecutor cited, among other reasons for this concern, communications that Jennifer Crumbley has had in jail with others — though he did not elaborate.

Crumbley attorney: 'None of the prosecutor’s business'

This concern prompted Jennifer Crumbley's lawyer to file an emergency motion on Friday, asking the court to order the prosecution to privately disclose to the defense any particular issues that drive its concerns.

"The prosecution knows very well that any filing by attorneys in this case are almost immediately picked up by the media and lead to inflammatory articles about the Crumbleys. There is no reason, other than gamesmanship by the prosecution, that the defense should not be made aware of the alleged basis to believe any conflict issue exists," Smith wrote in her filing, stressing:

"This has been a hot-button issue from the beginning, with the prosecutor’s office raising conflict issues unnecessarily."

Smith maintained in her filing that the Crumbleys have repeatedly waived any concerns about a potential conflict, signed numerous waiver forms and met with independent lawyers to assure them they waived any potential conflicts.

"In fact, the (Crumbleys) have never filed a motion that the other party did not join," Smith argued in her latest filing.

Moreover, Smith maintains, if the Crumbleys do have any conflict in their defense or issues proceeding to trial, it's up to their lawyers to address this — not the prosecutor's office.

"Quite frankly, it is none of the prosecutor’s business," Smith writes.

Prosecution cites reversed convictions

The Oakland County Prosecutor's Office disagrees, noting the two lawyers representing the Crumbleys used to work for the same law firm when the case started. But they don't anymore, which has the prosecution questioning whether a joint-defense strategy still exists.

In its latest filing, it asked for additional safeguards and conflict-of-interest waivers, arguing that "convictions have been reversed when an attorney’s cross-examination has been hindered due to a previous joint defense that was abandoned."

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald left, listens as Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor Marc Keast, makes an objection to defense attorney Paulette Michel Loftin's questioning of forensic psychiatrist Dr. Lisa Anacker as Ethan Crumbley appears in the Oakland County Courtroom of Kwame Rowe, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, in Pontiac, Mich. The Oakland County Prosecutors are making their case that Crumbley, a teenager, should be sentenced to life without parole for killing four students at Oxford High School in 2021.

The prosecution maintains in its filing that it has reason to believe that there's been a breakdown between the two lawyers representing the mom and dad and that the parents are not aligned as they prepare for trial.

"The circumstances have changed," Keast wrote, citing three recent events:

  • Jennifer Crumbley's lawyer, Shannon Smith, sent the prosecution an email without copying James Crumbley's lawyer. "The email is remarkable because it marks the first time in two years that one defense counsel did not copy the other on an email, and it is the first time either counsel suggested a meeting to discuss only their client (in this case, defendant Jennifer Crumbley) and not both defendants."

  • The prosecution has "reviewed jail communications suggesting that the defendants may attempt to assert inconsistent defenses."

  • The most recent motion filed by Jennifer Crumbley's lawyer "marks the first time in two years of litigation that one of the defendants has filed a separate motion" where the other parent did not join or file an identical motion.

In court records, Smith said the email in question was "nothing secretive," but rather an attempt to schedule a meeting with the prosecution to discuss the upcoming trial. She wrote that she texted James Crumbley's lawyer about the meeting she was trying to arrange and that the two have long been aligned in their defense of the Crumbleys.

"At this time, it is not up to the prosecution to read into e-mails and communications and decide whether there is an alleged conflict," Smith wrote in her emergency motion. "First, parties go to trial often with conflicts, and the parties in this instant case have already explicitly and repeatedly waived any potential conflict — although there truly are not any."

The prosecution, meanwhile, argues that both James and Jennifer Crumbley should be given the opportunity to waive any conflict issues and proceed with their current lawyers, or proceed with "new, unburdened" attorneys.

"The People bring these matters to the court’s attention now to avoid further delay of trial, protect the integrity of the record and to avoid the worst-case scenarios — a mistrial or a reversal on appeal for ineffective assistance of counsel," Keast wrote.

Smith, in her court filing, argues things should stay the way they are, with her and Mariell Lehman representing the Crumbleys, whose trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 23. They have long argued that they are not responsible for the deaths of four students, that they had no way of knowing their son would commit a mass shooting and that they kept the gun properly stored and locked.

Their son, Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of the massacre, pleaded guilty to all his crimes and is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 8. He faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Prosecutor: Jennifer Crumbley blames husband for son's school shooting