ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. (FOX 2) - During a procedural hearing between parents of the accused Oxford School shooter, a judge appointed independent counsel for both James and Jennifer Crumbley.
Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Matthews said she had concerns about a potential conflict of interest by the couple using lawyers from the same firm, despite the Crumbley couple being charged as individuals instead of together.
Prosecutor Karen McDonald previously argued either defendant if convicted could ask for an appeal based on a conflict of interest from the other attorney and requested the arrangement be reevaluated.
"I'm trying to avoid your rights being implicated in a negative way. I'm also trying to avoid recreating or going backwards in this case," said Matthews Tuesday morning.
As a result, both James and Jennifer Crumbley will have separate meetings with their own independent lawyer within the next two weeks. A tentative court date was set for April 5 at 10 a.m., however Shannon Smith, who is representing Jennifer Crumbley, was out sick and might have a conflicting appointment that day.
The Crumbley's March 22 pre-trial hearing is the first court appointment the duo had since they were ordered to stand trial on charges of involuntary manslaugher. Their son, Ethan, is accused of murdering four students and injuring several others on Nov. 30, 2021 at Oxford High School.
Matthews also cited concerns about the court being backed up. If a mistrial were declared or concerns of conflicting interests threw the case into ambiguity, it would mean an even longer time waiting for a resolution to the trial.
"We'd be back to square one," she said.
The hearing comes just a couple of days after Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald filed a motion not to name the accused shooter in court for the parents' hearings and trial. Late Monday night, a court granted the motion. It includes both in open court and written court filings.
"Shooters want to be famous," McDonald said in a statement. "It's one of the key motivators for most shooters, and it was definitely a motivator for the Oxford shooter. He wanted to be famous and he wanted to be remembered."
McDonald went on to say that each shooter wants to be more famous than the one before and she will ‘not be part of’ contributing to future shootings.
"That’s why we do not repeat the shooter’s name in court or in our briefs, and that’s why we are asking the court to order that this shooter’s name not be used in open court or in public filings," McDonald said.
Ethan Crumbley is also expected in court this week with another hearing regarding his placement in the Oakland County Jail with adult inmates.
What are James and Jennifer Crumbley charged with?
Over the course of two days in February, multiple pieces of evidence were presented suggesting that James and Jennifer Crumbley failed to address concerns regarding Ethan Crumbley's mental health. The couple is also accused of buying a gun for the 15-year-old on Friday, Nov. 26 - just four days before the shooting at Oxford High School.
According to authorities, Jennifer Crumbley made an Instagram post that said she was at a gun range shooting a weapon that was her son's Christmas present days before the shooting.
During the preliminary exam, text messages between Jennifer Crumbley and Ethan Crumbley were presented that showed for months before the shooting, the teen would text his mother about hallucinations he was having while home alone. On multiple occasions, she didn't acknowledge these messages.
Text messages between Ethan Crumbley and a close friend also revealed a look into the teen's relationship with his parents.
In an exchange on April 5, 2021, prosecutors described "quite a bit" of discussion about his mental state in which Ethan Crumbley told his friend he was "f----- up," experiencing hallucinations, and had asked his parents for help.
"Now my mom thinks I take drugs," one text read, according to the prosecutor. "She thinks that’s the reason why I’m so mad and sad all the time, and she doesn't worry about my mental health. They make me feel like I’m the problem."
Another text from Ethan Crumbley to his friend indicated that he had asked his father, James, "to take me to the doctor but he just gave me some pills and told me to suck it up," the prosecutor read during the hearing.
At one point, Ethan told his friend in a text: "I need help. I was thinking of calling 911 so I could go to the hospital but then my parents would be really pissed," according to the exchange read in court.
During the exam, Oxford High School counselor Shawn Hopkins also testified about James and Jennifer Crumbley.
Hopkins said he spoke with Ethan Crumbley after concerning drawings and words were found on an assignment the day of the school shooting.
Hopkins said he "was concerned about suicidal ideation" and contacted Ethan Crumbley's parents to meet with them.
Jennifer and James Crumbley were shown the note and advised that Hopkins was concerned for his well-being. Hopkins testified that he didn’t recall Jennifer speaking to her son during the estimated 15-minute meeting and that James looked over the math assignment with Ethan and told him, "you have people you can talk to."
The counselor testified that he told the couple Ethan needed mental health support "as soon as possible, today if possible." But he noted that Jennifer said she had to return to work that day and it wouldn’t be possible within that timeframe.
"I was taken aback by that," the counselor testified. He added that he then told the parents, "I want him seen within 48 hours. I’ll be following up."
When is the trial for James and Jennifer Crumbley?
FOX 2 reporter and legal analyst Charlie Langton said he expects the trial of the Crumbley parents to happen towards the end of 2022.
They're both being held in custody on a $500,000 bond and, because they're both detained, they are deemed a priority.
When it comes to scheduling on the court's docket, suspects in custody for any crimes are given priority over suspects who are out on bond.
The strategies that either legal team uses may depend on the timing of the trials for Ethan or James and Jennifer. Their case strategies may also change if Ethan chooses to take a plea deal.
Ethan could testify that his parents had no involvement or the prosecution could call him to support their case. Langton said that is unlikely due to his age.