A judge concerned about potential conflicts of interest assigns independent counsel to each parent of a 15-year-old boy accused of killing four students at his Michigan high school.
Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews said during a preliminary hearing Tuesday for Jennifer and James Crumbley that because each is represented by counsel from the same law firm, the potential for conflict exists.
During their preliminary examination where they were ordered to stand trial last month, Jennifer Crumbley was represented by Shannon Smith, while Mariell Lehman represented James Crumbley.
The Crumbleys face manslaughter charges and are accused of providing their son, Ethan, with the gun used in the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School. They are also accused of failing to intervene when he showed signs of mental distress at home and at school.
Joint representation of co-defendants accused in criminal cases by attorneys from the same law firm is rare, Matthews said.
“Appointment of counsel will not replace the defendants’ current counsel of choice or reporting to this court,” Matthews said, adding that they will advise each defendant regarding joint representation and potential conflicts.
The Associated Press left messages Tuesday seeking comments from Smith and Lehman.
Prosecutors initially expressed concern that using the same law firm would allow an attempt to appeal the Crumbleys if found guilty.
Matthews said the couple would be invited to a preliminary hearing tentatively scheduled for early April if they intended to drop any potential conflict.
Their son is charged as an adult with first-degree murder, assault with intent to murder, terrorism and firearms charges in the shooting at his school, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) away. north of Detroit. Six other students and a teacher were injured.
Smith and Lehman insisted James and Jennifer Crumbley didn’t know their son might be planning an attack and didn’t make the gun easy to find in their home.
His lawyers filed a notice of defense for insanity. He is housed alone in a cell in the Oakland County Jail Clinic to prevent him from seeing and hearing adult inmates.
Oakland County District Attorney Karen McDonald filed a motion last week asking that her name not be spoken openly in court or used in writing in the case against her parents. McDonald said she wanted to avoid giving notions of fame or notoriety to their son.
Williams reported from West Bloomfield, Michigan