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Prosecutors Say Alleged School Shooter Ethan Crumbley Was ‘Fascinated with Guns and Nazi Propaganda’; Judge Refuses to Lower Parents’ Bond

James and Jennifer Crumbley

James and Jennifer Crumbley.

A Michigan judge has refused to lower a $500,000 bond for the parents of 15-year-old alleged school shooter Ethan Crumbley. The decision came at the end of a hearing where prosecutors alleged that the teen was “fascinated with guns and Nazi propaganda” and where James and Jennifer Crumbley, the teen’s parents, shook their heads to contest allegations that they were warned by school officials that Ethan posed a danger and needed immediate mental health treatment.

Defense attorney Mariell Lehman said prosecutors made “false, misleading, and irrelevant statements” in a response to a defense request to reduce the couple’s bond.

The state’s motion, made as part of an involuntary manslaughter prosecution against the duo, accuses the couple of failing to heed warning signs that their son was likely to cause harm.

“Defendants had information long before November 30 (within the six months prior to the shooting) that their son’s only friend moved at the end of October 2021; that the family dog died; that their son was sadder than usual; and that he was sending his mother disturbing texts about his state of mind,” the state argued (in part) while attempting to keep the couple incarcerated on a $500,000 bond for each of the parents.  “Meanwhile, during that same period, Defendants spent their time at the bam caring for their horses (3-4 nights a week for up to 3 hours at a time), and seeking other relationships, including Defendant mother’s extramarital affairs. Instead of paying attention to their son and getting him help, they bought him a gun.”

Defense attorneys for the Crumbley parents attempted to rubbish the state’s arguments.

Defense attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman appeared in a virtual court hearing on Jan. 7, 2022. (Image via WJBK-TV screengrab.)

Defense attorneys Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman appeared in a virtual court hearing on Jan. 7, 2022.

“The information provided by the prosecution related to extramarital relationships is not only clearly irrelevant to the issue of bond or any criminal responsibility but is also a clear intention by the prosecution to create a conflict between the parties,” Lehman said.

“Your honor, there is no conflict,” the defense attorney continued. “We have explained and discussed the matter extramarital relationships with our clients and there are no issues.”

The latter comment appeared connected to a decision by the Crumbleys to be represented by the same law firm — which can create a conflict of interest.

Referencing the alleged affair, Lehman argued that “any evidence of other crimes discovered” during a search of the family’s home amounts to a warrantless search under Michigan case law and therefore violates the defendants’ Fourth Amendment rights.

The defense attorney also said Ethan Crumbley “explicitly” stated in a journal since collected as evidence that he was trying to find “where his dad hid the firearm” the family recently obtained.

“This statement in Ethan Crumbley’s own words is contrary to the false and misleading assertions that the prosecution has made in this case: the assertions that the firearm was extremely accessible to Ethan Crumbley,” Lehman argued.

Rather, Lehman said, the prosecution was relying on cases where guns were readily accessible to support their claims that the case was “strong.” The journal, Lehman said, suggests the opposite.

Furthermore, Lehman said the parents were “completely unaware” that Ethan Crumbley allegedly kept a severed bird head in his bedroom. In his journal, the teen wrote that he carried out acts of animal abuse such that his parents wouldn’t be able to find out what he was doing, Lehman indicated.

Lehman asked that bond be reduced to $100,000 in cash or surety. The defense said each of the Crumbley parents would consent to wear a GPS monitor should they be released.

Prosecutor Karen McDonald.

Prosecutor Karen McDonald.

Oakland County Prosecuting Attorney Karen McDonald immediately noted that the defendants were a flight risk — especially given the way they were arrested.

James Crumbley was employed transiently by Door Dash, and Jennifer Crumbley was fired from her job, McDonald said. The family’s home and other assets are up for sale. Both of the parents’ families live in Florida, the prosecutor said.

McDonald then asserted that both defendants “started making plans” to sell their horses, line up a hotel, bought four cell phones, drained their son’s bank account, withdrew money from their own accounts, and went on the lam rather than turn themselves in to the authorities. In total, the couple had “more than a dozen credit cards and gift cards” and $6,600 in cash, McDonald told the judge. The couple tried to destroy one of the four phones before they were taken into custody, the prosecutor also noted.

“There was a police station across the street from their hotel,” McDonald said of the couple’s early movements. “There was nothing that was preventing them from staying right there. They didn’t go to the court. They didn’t turn themselves in. They fled to another county.”

Jennifer Crumbley, Ethan Crumbley, and James Crumbley appear in mugshots taken by the jail in Oakland County, Mich., in Dec. 2021.

Jennifer Crumbley, Ethan Crumbley, and James Crumbley appear in mugshots taken by the jail in Oakland County, Mich., in Dec. 2021.

Prosecutor Marc Keast then told the judge that the case was strong and predicted that the defendants would be convicted. He noted that Ethan Crumbley would “repeatedly” text his mother that he believed “there was a demon, ghost, or someone else inside the home” when he was home alone.

Ethan Crumbley’s alleged “torturing and killing animals” at the family home dated back to May 2021, Keast continued; the teen recorded video of the act or acts and kept the severed bird head “for six months,” Keast said.

“The evidence recovered thus far shows that Ethan Crumbley was creating molotov cocktails at the family residence as well,” Keast added. “That phone extraction also revealed that he searched school shootings and firearms so often on his phone that he received spam advertisements regarding his mental wellbeing and firearms.”

Keast also alleged that Ethan Crumbley was “fascinated with guns and Nazi propaganda.”

“He purchased a Nazi coin from Amazon and kept it in plain view in his bedroom,” Keast told the judge. “A notebook recovered from the family home was recovered. It appeared to have been shared by all members of the household, as it depicted Nazi symbols on one page and a grocery list on another.”

The teen also asked his parents “when he could go shooting” and “bragged about how he’d been asking for a 9mm handgun,” Keast said.

Another notebook found “in plain view” in the Crumbley home “depicted pictures of firearms on literally every page.”

The evidence, the prosecutor said, added up to a “worrisome” combination; the parents “did not intervene,” schedule therapy, or keep all of their weapons secured.

The prosecution then repeated old allegations that the 9mm handgun allegedly used in the school shooting was purchased by the Crumbley parents specifically for Ethan.

“He wrote pages and pages” about what he was planning to do and recorded a video of his plans, Keast alleged.

Keast said Jennifer Crumbley’s employer would “gladly” have given her time off to remove Ethan from school once a teacher found violent drawings on a class assignment and that James Crumbley could have stopped working for Door Dash the day of the shooting.

When prosecutors suggested that school officials warned the Crumbleys that “immediate” therapy was necessary and that the Crumbleys responded by claiming they couldn’t take time off from work, both of the parents shook their heads as if to suggest prosecutors were lying.

Jennifer Crumbley reacted negatively to assertions that school officials gave her a 48-hour deadline to provide mental health services for Ethan or else they would be reported to Child Protective Services.

Lehman chimed in to claim the Crumbleys went to a hotel because their home address had been posted on the internet and that their safety was in jeopardy. The defense did not directly or vocally rebut any of the assertions prosecutors made about what school officials told the Crumbleys.

Jennifer and James Crumbley appeared to attempt to communicate by mouthing words and hand signals to one another during a court hearing on Jan. 7, 2022.

Jennifer and James Crumbley appeared to attempt to communicate by mouthing words and hand signals to one another during a court hearing on Jan. 7, 2022.

During a breakout session between the judge and the attorneys at the end of the proceeding, Jennifer and James Crumbley appeared to mouth words and make hand gestures to one another on the court video feed in an apparent attempt to communicate.

Citing the defendants’ ties to Florida, apparent attempt to flee rather than to turn themselves in, failure to answer calls from their own attorney, and withdrawal of significant cash reserves prior to their arrest, the judge ordered that the defendants’ bond amount would remain set at $500,000 each.

A preliminary examination is scheduled for Feb. 8.

A video of the hearing is below:

[Images via WJBK-TV/YouTube screengrabs, except as noted.]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.