OXFORD, Mich. (FOX 2) - The hearing to determine if the Oxford High School shooter can get life in prison without the chance of parole continued Tuesday. Day three included cross-examination of a mental health expert called by the defense.
It ended with Judge Kwame Rowe adjourning the room and intended to meet again on Aug. 18. A rebuttal witness is expected to be called for the next day of testimony.
Testimony was given during what is known as a Miller hearing, a name that comes from the U.S. Supreme Court's 2012 Miller v. Alabama ruling.
That ruling prevents mandatory life without parole sentences for children. These sentences can still be imposed, but they require a special hearing to decide if it is appropriate. This means that the shooter, who was 15 at the time of the crime, cannot automatically receive life without the chance of parole.
The shooter pleaded guilty to four counts of murder, one count of terrorism, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm while in the commission of a felony after the Nov. 30, 2021 shooting. However, he cannot be sentenced until a judge considers his cages since he is a teenager facing life in prison.
Day 3 testimony
Mental health expert testifies
Dr. Colin King, a mental health expert, testified about his findings after evaluating the shooter over several sessions.
King focused heavily on the shooter's childhood.
"I saw that as early as age 10, matter of fact even going back to age 6, there were some issues," he said.
King said he interviewed a neighbor and learned that the shooter was left alone as young as 6 and would go to a neighbor and say he was afraid and ask for help, especially during storms. He also would text his mother when he was 10 and ask when she was coming home. These texts went unanswered, King said.
While his parents were away, the shooter would play violent video games and look at graphic videos online. King said he then started fantasizing about being in these scenes.
He noted that there was constant family dysfunction when the parents were home, including talks of divorce and which parent the shooter would pick if they split up.
King said he found that the shooter has very high levels of depression and anxiety, and testing classified him as having the highest level of anxiety possible. He also said that the shooter has obsessive thoughts that he cannot shut off. These findings were consistent with the shooter's journal writings, King said.
King also said it didn't appear the school provided adequate mental health resources for the shooter or other students. According to King, they had one social worker for about 900-1,000 students at any given time. This ratio is recommended to be one worker to 250 students.
In addition to being a mental health expert, King is also an expert on brain injury. The shooter's attorneys argued that he had suffered traumatic brain injuries.
Attorney Paulette Loftin referenced a time in 2020 when the shooter collapsed at work and hit his head, and King said the shooter told him about a time he collapsed while picking fruit. There was no evidence he received care after this.
King said the brain is very soft and has a consistency of a raw or soft egg and is susceptible to injury. He then presented a demonstration of how soft a brain is with an egg.
The expert additionally testified that he believed the defendant could be rehabilitated, saying his brain still has years before it's fully developed.
During the prosecution's cross-examination of King, they asked about differences between two reports about the shooter. One was published in January and another in June, the second of which was admitted as the most updated version and included some changes in details King included.
The prosecution also asked about how King determined that the shooter was mentally ill, including a 10-question survey known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire, which serves as a prediction tool by using a child's experiences to determine their future trajectory in terms of health and wellbeing.
King never administered the survey to the shooter, but said he used 22 hours of interviews and other evidence to make his determination.
The prosecution also prodded King about whether he believed the shooter was criminally responsible for 2021 incident, knowing the shooter pled guilty to his crimes and withdrew his insanity defense. "My understanding is he was found not to be criminally insane," King eventually responded.
King did testify that during his interviews with the shooter, the defendant reported sorrow, nightmares, and depression over the outcome of his actions. "He's coming to grips for what he did," King said. He further said the defendant was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from the shooting.
The defendant was also recorded as asking God why he allowed the shooting to take place.
The prosecution also noted in King's report that it spent only a few lines on the contents of the defendant's journal, despite showing text messages sent by the shooter attorneys say reveal his motivation.
"Looking at defendant's messages, he tells us why he's doing what he's doing. He wanted to be famous," Prosecutor David Williams, who then inquired if those are important factors in discussing the mindset of the shooter.
Previous days recap
Day one of the hearing was last Thursday. It included graphic testimony and information at times – including statements made by the killer just hours before the shooting where he recorded himself saying he would be the next school shooter.
Day two on Friday started with the shooter's attorney, Amy Hopp, moving to strike the testimony of Molly Darnell, the Oxford High School teacher who was shot on Nov. 30, 2021.
"Yesterday's testimony from Ms. Darnell got into things like how she communicated with her family, how she was feeling while communicating with her family," Hopp said, arguing that Darnell's testimony was not appropriate for a Miller Hearing and was appropriate for the sentencing. "We are not here for a sentencing."
Hopp said it was not appropriate.
Prosecutor Karen McDonald said the testimony is appropriate and reflects the intention of the shooter to inflict pain, and it's offensive to not allow those involved to stand up and tell the truth.
"The defendant in this case, in how he committed this crime and the circumstances around it are highly relevant," McDonald said. "The defendant's actions and what he stated he wanted to do and how he did it - are why we are here. He executed students at point-blank range. He wrote about how he was going to do it."
McDonald said she was going to call two minor students to the stand but that she would not do so if the defense attorneys ‘badger’ the witnesses.
"They do not know about the defendant's background. They do not know the Miller factors," she said.
Judge Kwame Rowe said he's been paying close attention and will take the Miller factors into account.
Rowe denied the request to strike Darnell's testimony and said he would expect both the defense and the prosecution to treat each witness with respect.
"I don't expect any witness to be badgered by either side," Rowe said. "Let's treat each other with respect. Let's get this hearing done, today hopefully."
Det. Edward Wagrowski was called back to the stand first on Friday as the defense needed to cross-examine him from Thursday.
Defense Attorney Paulette Loftin questioned him, specifically about the website that the shooter had accessed prior to the Oxford High School shooting and his Google search history. At 8:48 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 29, he searched ‘should you do something that should imprison you’. A week before that, he searched ‘what happens if you have depression and anxiety’, ‘what is mental illness’, 'anxiety disorder', and other searches linked to mental illness. Additionally, on Nov. 21, he looked up details about the Army, what happens if he doesn't go to school, and what could hold him back in school. He also previously Googled ‘am I a sociopath’, ‘what is a psychopath’, and ‘How do you know if you have gone insane’.
She also discussed the text exchanges between the shooter and his mom in the days before the shooting, including when he was caught searching for ammo at school plus texts between the shooter's parents about their son.
After confirming hundreds of pages of texts and searches, Loftin confirmed with Wagrowski that these were all sent by the shooter and then said she had not further questions.
Under redirect, prosecutor Mark Keates said Loftin did not go through the shooter's other desires to torture animals or people.
Students who witnessed Oxford shooting testify
Prosecutor Karen McDonald then called minors to the stand, who are not to be shown on video or photos.
The first to speak was 17-year-old Heidi Allen, a survivor of the shooting who witnessed the terror. The girl testified she's been at Oxford schools since kindergarten and was in 10th grade in 2021.
She testified she was in the 200 hallway where the shooting took place on Nov. 30, 2021 and was heading to the bathroom when she saw the shooter come out of the boys' bathroom next door. She said she knew exactly who it was when she saw him walking out.
"We weren't friends. I just knew of him. We had gone to school since middle school. He had always been a classmate but I think I'd only talked to him once or twice," Allen said. "He was very quiet. He didn't answer when people talked to him."
Allen said she watched the shooter start shooting but he never shot her. She witnessed him shoot several people inside the school before turning away.
She then ducked into a classroom where she put a Night Lock in place to lock the door. She said she had been taught during a drill in school earlier in the year.
Allen said he prayed with the first person shot by the shooter, Phoebe Arthur. She testified she was in that hallway at that moment for a reason. The girls were in the classroom together and both called their parents to tell them what was happening.
She said Arthur had been shot multiple times, so she took her sweatshirt to help stop the blood and keep Arthur talking.
"She had times where she kept zoning off so I kept talking to her," Allen said.
When she heard police coming down the hallway, she looked out the window and took out the safety look before opening the door and yelling for help.
Once she came out of the room, she said she saw two victims, Hana St. Juliana and Madisyn Baldwin, both with wounds and blood around them.
The defense did not cross-examine Allen and she was dismissed from the witness stand.
After a brief recess, 16-year-old Keegan Gregory, who was in 9th grade in November 2021. He testified he was eating lunch prior to the shooting and came down to hallway 200.
Gregory testified he was in the bathroom when he heard gunshots. He said Justin Shilling was in there as well and encouraged him to come into the bathroom stall with him. Shilling encouraged him to stand on the toilet and squat down, so the shooter couldn't see him. Shilling stood near a post behind the bathroom door, in an effort to prevent the shooter from seeing him.
Prosecutor Karen McDonald then showed a group text with his family where he said he was hiding in the bathroom of the school to tell them what was happening and how scared he was. His dad encouraged him to stay down and stay quiet and calm.
At 12:55 p.m., his dad checked on him if he was still there. Right after that, Gregory texted that the shooter was in there.
At 12:56, Gregory texted ‘he saw us' after the shooter kicked the bathroom door in.
"He stared at us," he said. He doesn't remember if anyone said anything at that moment. "I'm pretty sure we all stayed quiet."
He said the shooter then walked out and Shilling told him when they heard gunshots get farther away, they would run. The shooter didn't leave the bathroom, however. He stayed in the bathroom as the two boys tried to stay hidden.
"He came back in. He told me to stay put and for Justin to come out with him," he said.
Gregory said at no time did the shooter seem panicked or aggressive or emotional.
"(He seemed) kinda blank, kinda cold," he said.
Gregory said Shilling was then told by the shooter to get out of the stall and he heard the gunshot. Then the shooter came back and motioned at Gregory to get out of the stall. Gregory then saw Shilling's body with a pool of blood around his head and he was signaled to go by Shilling's body.
"When he signaled me with the gun, I ran behind is back," Gregory said. "When I saw his body, I realized I was going to die."
Once outside of the bathroom, Gregory said he saw another body later identified as Tate Myre.
"I just kept running as fast as I could," he said tried making as many turns as possible to try to lose him. He wound up in an office and was eventually guided outside by an officer.
Gregory said, if not for Shilling, he'd be dead right now.
As with the first student, the defense did not question Gregory and he was excused.
After a 10-minute recess, McDonald called another witness, Christy Gibson-Marshall – the assistant principal at Oxford High School.
On Nov. 30, 2021, she was in the commons during the lunch hour and was leaving when the kids starting running through the school and an announcement was made about the school entering ALICE protocol.
Gibson-Marshall testified she checked several doors and could smell gunpowder in the school. As she was walking down the hallway, she saw the shooter in the hall and radioed that she had ‘eyes on the shooter’. She said he was carrying the gun when she saw him, and she ran to try to help a student who was on the floor. That student was later identified as Tate Myre.
She radioed for help and tried to give Myre CPR.
The defense did not question Gibson-Marshall, and she was dismissed from the witness stand.
Court then adjourned for a lunch break until 1:10 p.m. when Dr. Kenneth Romanowski was called by the defense as an expert witness.
Dr. Romanowski is a licensed social worker who works with minors in prison to determine their history, programs involved in court, and what they've completed for the Department of Corrections.
Dr. Romanowski said this case is different as it involves a suspect who has not yet been sentenced yet. He testified about the shooter's experience in the Oakland County Jail, including the suicide watch that the shooter was on, medication prescribed, counseling while in custody, and more about his behaviors in the jail.
Prior to 2023, Dr. Romanowski was working towards his GED on a jail tablet and there were no prior issues with the suspect before 2023.
"From what I understand, he was able to get up to the point of taking the (tests) but it needed to be proctored and the jail was not able to do the proctoring," he said.
He also discussed the opportunities that the shooter will have in prison to rehabilitate and gain their education, plus the process for a possible parole hearing.
"(They look) first and foremost is (the inmate a) danger to the community if released. Danger and risk to the public," he said. "They're going to look at his involvement in prison programs, his conducts, the crimes. All these factors are looked at."
Dr. Romanowski said it is less likely for him to be released if he doesn't cooperate with programs while in prison. He also said if inmates get a major misconduct violation in prison, time can be added to the sentencing.
Shooter's psychiatrist testifies
The shooter's psychiatrist Dr. Fariha Qadir testified about the shooter's mental health.
She has been seeing the shooter since a few days after the school shooting. Qadir said she has diagnosed him with severe major depressive disorder and adjustment disorder with anxiety.
The shooter is currently on antidepressants, sleep medication, and a mood stabilizer for anger episodes. The medications also help with the shooter's anxiety, Qadir said.
What happens next?
Rowe will weigh factors such as the shooter's age, life circumstances, and crime circumstances. This could take several days. After the Miller hearing is done, Rowe will announce his decision at a later date, and his sentencing will be scheduled.
Life sentences can still be imposed on children, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that prevents those kinds of punishments. However, a special hearing is first required. It enables juveniles with extreme sentences to argue why they should be allowed release back into society.
The shooter had previously requested that Rowe remove the life without parole possibility from his sentence, but Rowe declined.