OXFORD, Mich. (FOX 2) - The Oxford High School shooter was in court on Thursday where a judge will hear arguments and from witnesses about whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Ethan Crumbley, now 16, arrived in court on Thursday for the hearing on whether he will be sentenced to life without parole for the Oxford High School shooting. The hearing is known as a Miller hearing and is being argued in Oakland County Judge Kwame Rowe's courtroom. The Miller hearing is necessary because of a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that prevents automatic life sentencing for minors.
Court adjourned around 4 p.m. on Thursday with plans to resume on Friday at 8:30 a.m. Below are the details about what happened during the first day of the hearing.
During opening statements, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said she agrees that minors should not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole but that Crumbley is an exception.
"This hearing is the most important legal proceeding of everyone here in this courtroom," McDonald said. "Everyone is in this courtroom because he decided to kill four other people and take their lives instead of his own."
McDonald cites who was killed and how it was done, saying that Ethan took joy in his actions.
"The way he walks up to them and fires at point blank range, the way he takes shooter stance to kill Tate Myre," she said, arguing that Ethan knew what he was doing when he planned the shooting. "He decided in advance that he decided he was not going to kill himself. Researched response times to make sure surrendered before police arrived. He stayed alive to make sure he witnesses the suffering that the created."
"When the U.S. Supreme Court and Michigan Supreme Court talk about the rare case and the defendant (sentenced to life), this is the one, your honor," McDonald said.
Crumbley's attorney, Paulette Loftin, then delivered her opening statement, saying that the case of Miller v. Alabama requires the court to consider all matters surrounding what happened.
"The court has to consider mitigating circumstances. Those are chronological age, financial and home environment, circumstances of the crimes – not facts, circumstances – incompetency associated with youth, and the possibility of rehabilitation," Loftin.
She went on to say that Ethan pleaded guilty to the charges and that the prosecution filed a motion to seek life without parole after the plea.
"Experts and witnesses that will come before you will not give you an excuse for Ethan’s actions. They will give you an explanation for how Ethan ended up with a gun in his hand on Nov. 30, 2021," she said. "At the end of the hearing, we will be asking for a term of years bc it will be clear to you that Ethan Crumbley is not one of those rare juveniles that is irreparably corrupt and without the ability to be rehabilitated."
Witnesses testify in Ethan Crumbley's hearing
The first witness to take the stand during the hearing is Oakland County Sheriff Lt. Tim Willis, who was one of the first to arrive at the shooting and was the officer in charge of the scene.
Prosecutor Marc Keast called Willis to testify, leading him through evidence found in Crumbley's backpack – including the journal found in his belongings that detailed his plans to shoot up the school.
On page 22, Willis testified, Crumbley said he wanted to shoot up the school and was going to buy a 9 mm pistol. That was in early November. By the end of November, his parents bought him a 9 mm Sig Sauer, which was used in the shooting.
Willis said pictures that Crumbley posted on social media showed he knew how to hold and aim a gun.
"He has some knowledge, it appears, on how to handle firearms," Willis said his finger was outside the guard and had lined up the sights appropriately.
Additionally, Willis read from a page in the journal that specifically detailed Ethan's plan that day:
"I will continue shooting people until police breach the building, then I will surrender to them and plead guilty to life in prison," the journal read.
Additionally, Crumbley wrote that he wanted to shoot a ‘pretty girl in the back of the head’ and the journal included a drawing of a girl with a gun pointed at the back of her head – and a drawing of the gun going off.
"The first victim has to be a pretty girl with a future so she can suffer just like me," he wrote.
Willis then testified that the first person shot was Phoebe Arthur and she was shot in the face.
Keates then showed video from the shooting range from four days before the shooting, which showed Crumbley loading the gun in the range and firing multiple rounds. Willis said this is evidence that Crumbley knew what he was doing, despite having just gotten the gun recently.
"The most interesting thing to me - he just bought this gun, so presumably this is one of the first time, if not the first time, he’s fired this gun - he understands the basic concepts of shooting: two-hand grip, arms extended, bringing the sights up to your line of sight," Willis said.
Ethan fired multiple rounds before his mom, Jennifer Crumbley, took a turn shooting the gun with the assistance of Ethan.
The next video was from the range on September 25, 2021 - two months earlier. Ethan was at the range with his father, James, that day. James had a gun on his hip that day, believed to be his 22 caliber Kel Tech pistol.
The first to fire that day was Ethan with the Kel Tech gun. On the video, nobody showed him how to fire that day as well – and Willis said it appears he was confident in his shooting.
Ethan's journal complained about not having access to a 9mm, calling his dad's Kal Tech "puny". Willis said the difference between the two guns is stark and that the 9mm is meant to cause more damage and, of the two, was more likely to penetrate a classroom door.
"The most glaring difference is the size. The 9mm is a much, much, much larger round. It has more impact. It does more damage," he said. "22s are designed for target practice with paper and very small game (hunting). Whereas the 9mm is essentially a combat round."
Ethan's Google search then included ‘how deadly is a 9mm pistol’ and 'how effective is a 22 caliber'.
He also googled maximum sentences in Michigan, legal age of prison sentencing, Michigan youth correctional facility, what prisons are in the state, has anyone been executed in Michigan, which states have the death penalty, a search regarding another shooter being sentenced to death, and maximum death penalty – all a week before the shooting.
Willis walked the prosecution through a graphic video, which was not shown, of Ethan torturing a bird to death. The details were extremely graphic - including Ethan breaking the legs and wings of the bird while recording the entire thing. He messaged a friend that he "laughed the entire time", Willis said.
"The torture's disturbing enough. The commentary throughout, the inflection, knowing the prior passages, the enjoyment this brings the defendant – you can't put it into words," Willis said.
During cross-examination, Loftin honed in on the parenting of James and Jennifer. She questioned Willis about previous run-ins between the Crumbley parents and neighbors. Including neighbors who reported a lot of swearing, yelling, and Ethan being left home alone when a young child.
Loftin said it appears that the Crumbley parents didn't have an interest in Ethan's education, dating back to elementary school – which Willis agreed with. In 2021 and 2022, Ethan had C's, D's, and E's in his classes. Prior to that, in middle school, he had all A's and B's, Loftin said. She said this is evidence that Ethan wasn't a problem child in school.
She then returned to the journal, where she discussed many of Ethan's entries that included information about his loneliness and disinterest in classwork.
"I am genuinely surprised right now that none of my teachers have contacted my counselor or sent me to the office for not doing my work," he wrote. "I just want to go back to the good days when I didn't have a worry in the world."
Ethan said he would never feel the love of another human being as well.
"I will hate myself probably more than some people already do," he wrote. "I sometimes even regret about doing the shooting. If I don't, then what is there for me?"
Loftin then pivoted to the parents – including how James and Jennifer discussed parenting their son, including that there were not any messages about noticing Ethan was more sad lately – even during a meeting with the school on the day of the shooting.
"I believe Mr. Hopkins said he believed there was a potential for suicidal ideation," Willis said.
During that meeting, the parents declined to take Ethan home and both said they needed to return to work.
Loftin asked if there any messages where they discussed treating Ethan's mental illness.
"I don't recall any," Willis said.
As for the guns Ethan shot at the firing range, they were all bought by James, Willis testified.
32 gunshots fired
After both the prosecution and defense were finished, the court took an hour-long break for lunch.
Around 1:30, Ronald Koteles, Oakland County Sheriff Crime Scene Supervisor, testified. He walked the court through several photos of the crime scene – which we were instructed not to show.
Keast walked Koteles through several photos of school – including bullet holes in doors, windows, and the bathroom in the school where Crumbley started shooting.
Koteles testified the gun had been fired 32 times in the school.
Crumbley's other attorney, Amy Hopp, then pointed out that Koteles did not have any knowledge about Crumbley, his age, or his mental competencies.
Det. Edward Wagrowski from the Oakland County Sheriff's Computer Crimes Unit was called by Keates next. He was in the sheriff's office when he was informed of the shooting.
"As I was pulling out of the parking lot, it became very real," he said. "I looked to the left… there are two marked patrol officers from another agency. They were going extremely fast. They weren't from my agency but I remember thinking ‘I know where they are going.’"
Wagrowski detailed arriving to the chaotic scene and collecting information from people from the school then discussed what happened when he reviewed video of the shooting.
Video was not played in court but Wagrowski testified it showed the shooter running through the hallway, shooting students – including Madisyn Baldwin – who was shot in the head. She was crouched into a fetal position when he came up to her and 'executed her', Keates said.
Wagrowski confirmed that information and said she appeared to be doing her best to hide from him.
Keates then walked Wagrowski through Crumbley's internet searches – which included searches about school shootings on the day of the shooting and in the weeks before the shooting. This includes the Parkland and Sandy Hook school shootings.
Crumbley: "I will be the next school shooter"
WARNING: this video is graphic and may be hard to read through the details.
A video was then played in court, recorded by Crumbley, that was shot the day before the shooting.
"My name is Ethan Crumbley, aged 15, and I'm going to be the next school shooter," Crumbley said in the video, which was shot at 10:05 p.m. the night before the shooting. "The school I'm shooting up is Oxford High School. I'm in 10th grade there. I've always been fascinated by guns."
In the recording, Crumbley said he wanted to be in SWAT as young as the 3rd grade and also had desires to be in the Marines or the Army.
"How will it make me happy? How will I love doing that? Then I realized that's going to work out. So I was thinking - what am I going to do? I realized all the bull s*** that was in front of me and I never realized it," he said.
He went on to say that no one safe and that people were brainwashed and that his shooting was for a cause.
"When the bell rings at the end of 5th hour, I'm going to walk to the end of the dividend between the girls' and boys' bathrooms. I will walk behind someone and I will shoot a bullet into their skull. That's my first victim. I'm going to open fire on everyone in that hallway. I want to try to get as many people as I can. I will reload and I will find people hiding. I'm gonna teach them a lesson of how they're wrong and how they're being brainwashed," he said.
He also apologized to his parents for what he was about to do.
"I'm sorry Mom and Dad," he said. "I'm ruining my life and not yours."
A BB gun couldn't do that
The first teacher we have heard from was Molly Darnell, who was shot that day. She was in room 224, near where Ethan started shooting.
She testified that she noticed a rush of students running down the hallway and then an announcement from the school principal about the school going into lockdown.
"The pops and the doors slamming were really close in my head," she said.
She said the pops sounded like lockers slamming – which they weren't using at the time. That, combined with the lockdown announcement, sent her into lockdown mode. This required the enabling of the Night Lock, a device intended to prevent the door from opening. She testified she believes that the Night Lock is in every classroom.
"I reached for the Night Lock," she said, but paused to make sure she was installing it correctly. "I looked down for a second and noticed some movement. I looked and I locked eyes with someone dressed in baggy, oversized clothes. They were wearing a mask. I locked eyes, noticed some movement down below, and saw a gun moving up towards me."
She said noticed the gun didn't have an orange tip, which told her the gun was real. She said she jumped to her right because she believed she was going to be shot.
"I heard 3 very loud - physically loud, I could feel them coming through the door - they sounded like a cap gun," Darnell said. "I jumped to the right, felt my left shoulder move back and it felt like someone had burned me with hot water."
Darnell said she noticed her sweater was ripped and a bullet hole in the glass behind her.
"I remember thinking a BB gun couldn't do that," she said.
At this stage, she still had not gotten the Night Lock installed but was afraid to go back to the door. She tried to drag a large filing cabinet in front of the door but it was too heavy. She ultimately dropped her hands and knees and crawled over and put the Night Lock in and then dragged a rolling cabinet in front of the door.
"At that time, I sent my husband a text message that just said 'active shooter'," Darnell said.
She said her husband just said to get safe and that's when she saw blood and believes that's when she first realized she had been shot. She then messaged the school to confirm the shooter and then messaged her daughter, texting her that she was safe. She said she didn't message her other daughter, who is out of state, because she hoped to keep her safe for ‘just a little bit longer’.
Darnell said she then called her husband and told him that she had been shot.
"He kept begging me to stop talking. He said ‘Please, I don’t want him to hear you'," Darnell said.
Another announcement went out about still being in lockdown and Darnell said she started shaking while still hiding in the classroom. She said she started shaking uncontrollably but didn't believe she needed help.
"(it was) 20 minutes, I would say," she said. "I texted the teacher next door to me and said ‘I’ve been shot'. She called 911 and there was another teacher in that room who texted our administration."
A school administrator came to the door and a few seconds later, officers were outside. She took out the night lock, opened the door, and the officers picked her up and walked her out of the school.
For a few minutes, Darnell said she waited outside of the school before an ambulance arrived and took her to a Pontiac hospital, where she ultimately discovered to have been shot through part of her bicep with a through-and-through wound. She was treated and released at the hospital but was several weeks later before she realized that the gunshot would have hit her in the heart had she not dove to the right.
She said she only saw photos of the door that she hid behind last week, close to two years after the shooting.
"He was aiming to kill me," she said. "The top shot was intended for my head and the two bottom shots were intended for my chest."
Darnell had planned to return to the school but said it was too much to return to the work that she loved.
"It was just too hard to be there. I couldn't access things that I knew when I was in that space," she said.
Attorney Amy Hopp then cross-examined Darnell, which got a bit contentious at times as she questioned Darnell about procedures about childhood trauma.
Hopp's argument for the questioning is that it pertained to the Miller Hearing. McDonald said Darnell is a victim. Rowe said that the questioning has not all been relevant to the Miller factors.
Darnell was visibly shaken multiple times throughout the questioning and, when dismissed from the witness stand, McDonald walked away with her.
Court was then adjourned for the day it set to resume at 8:30 Friday morning.
Ethan Crumbley during his Miller hearing on July 27, 2023
What is a Miller hearing?
Miller hearings, which are named after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2012 Miller v. Alabama ruling, are used to decide if life without parole sentences are appropriate for children.
Crumbley 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 age since he is a teenager facing life in prison.
Crumbley was 15 when he committed the shooting. Had he been an adult, he would have automatically been given a life sentence without parole.
However, his age means certain factors must be considered before such a sentence is handed down.
According to FOX 2's Charlie Langton, it will come down to two things: the severity of the crime balanced with the age of Ethan.
Crumbley could get life in prison, if Rowe sides with the prosecution, or he could get at least 40 years in prison if Rowe sees his age as a larger factor.
What happens next?
Rowe will weigh factors such as Crumbley'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 Crumbley's 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.
Crumbley previously requested that Rowe remove the life without parole possibility from his sentence, but Rowe declined.