By Mike Martindale | The Detroit News
Oakland County prosecutor wants to make sure James and Jennifer Crumbley don’t have a chance to exchange affectionate terms in court hearings and is asking a judge to make sure that doesn’t happen in future court appearances before the tribunal.
During an in-person hearing in December, James Crumbley “with his mask partially down, said what sounded like ‘I love you’ to defendant Jennifer Crumbley,” Oakland County District Attorney Karen said. McDonald, in a motion filed to restrict the couple’s communications. during court proceedings in their manslaughter case.
When Jennifer Crumbley left the courtroom during that same hearing, “there was additional non-verbal communication” between her and her husband, according to the filing.
The Crumbleys are charged with four counts each of manslaughter in connection with the shooting deaths of Oxford High School students Madisyn Baldwin, Justin Shilling, Hana St. Juliana and Tate Myre.
David Williams, McDonald’s chief assistant prosecutor, argued in a statement Wednesday to the Detroit News that the couple’s conduct in court “makes fun of the crimes they are accused of committing.”
“The courtroom is not a place to blow kisses and send secret signals,” Williams said. “Now is the time for families to seek justice.”
The prosecutor alleges gross negligence on the part of the Crumbleys in allowing their son access to a firearm that was allegedly used in the murderous rampage. Their son, Ethan Crumbley, 15, is charged as an adult and faces 24 counts, including first-degree murder, in the deaths of the students and the wounding of seven others in the shooting on 30 November at school.
During a Jan. 7 Zoom court hearing for the parents’ bail motion, a Zoom breakout session with the attorneys and the court took place, McDonald said.
“The defendants remained on screen during this breakout session and they used this opportunity to communicate with each other again,” according to the filing.
“Jennifer Crumbley pointed out and said to the accused James Crumbley what appeared to be ‘I love you’, waved at him and continued to wave and say words to him.”
The communication between the couple during these meetings, which are broadcast on video, is a “serious distraction” and is traumatic for the families of the deceased, McDonald said.
Family members of the victims, she said, questioned why the two are allowed to communicate personally during a court hearing.
Two veteran Metro Detroit attorneys who have handled hundreds of lawsuit and defense cases have slightly different views on McDonald’s objections to verbal “I love you” communications between the couple.
“I think that’s ridiculous,” said Jerome Sabbota, who has served as both assistant prosecutor and defense attorney in his 45-year career. “First of all, these verbal remarks came during a breakout session when the court wasn’t even in session. So what’s upsetting? If a listener is offended in a way or another, he may leave the room. Stop looking.
“Secondly, these parents have not yet been convicted for anything and benefit from the presumption of innocence until proven guilty,” added Sabbota. “They have every right to communicate with each other and, if they’re on bail and at home, I expect them to talk to each other all the time.”
But another longtime attorney, Todd Flood, said McDonald’s had every right to make such a request.
“If she (McDonald) feels the actions are disruptive and detract from the dignity of the proceedings, she can certainly ask the judge to restrict communications,” said Flood, who served as an assistant prosecutor and defense attorney for years. .
James and Jennifer Crumbley were arrested Dec. 4 after being found in a Detroit warehouse. They are not allowed to come into contact with each other or their son in the Oakland County Jail where the three are being held.
The court, McDonald said, can impose conditions on defendants to restrict contact with others “if the court determines that the conditions are reasonably necessary to maintain the integrity of the legal process.”
Last month, the Crumbleys lost their bid to cut their individual bonds by $500,000. 52-3 District Judge Julie Nicholson denied the request, citing the parents’ ties to family in Florida, the severity of the alleged crimes and their escape to “an abandoned building” in Detroit.
They are named in a civil lawsuit filed by Myre’s parents that includes their son as well as six high school staff members.