The fifth day of testimony in the involuntary manslaughter trial for Jennifer Crumbley — the mother of convicted Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley — saw several clashes between defense attorney Shannon Smith and prosecutors over evidence that led to the release of information about an extramarital affair between Jennifer and one of the witnesses.
Brian Meloche, a high school friend of Jennifer’s, testified Wednesday that he received Facebook messages from Jennifer the morning of the shooting notifying him that she had to go to her son’s school because of a disturbing drawing he made, and that she was “worried he was going to do something dumb.” Meloche also testified that he asked her where the firearm she and her husband had purchased Ethan was, to which he said she responded the gun was in her car.
Prosecutors then moved to enter the entire Facebook conversation between Meloche and Jennifer into evidence, which Smith said she hadn’t seen and was not given ample time to review.
During the defense’s cross-examination of Meloche, Smith began a line of questioning that suggested that — during police interviews — investigators led the witness to believe he may lose his job as a firefighter or lose his benefits/pension for defending Jennifer.
That line of questioning opened the door for prosecutors to re-enter evidence of an affair between Jennifer and Meloche that had previously been suppressed by the court — at the defense’s request.
“Judge, counsel has alleged that two investigators with 30 years of experience committed a crime by intimidating a witness and lying to a witness,” said Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Marc Keast. “It requires a strong and accurate response. This changes the entire case.”
During his testimony that followed, Meloche specified to prosecutors that he did not think investigators threatened him during interviews.
Several other witnesses were called to testify on Wednesday, including law enforcement officials who responded to the school and/or participated in the search for the couple while they were reportedly “on the run,” as well as the individual who located the Crumbleys’ vehicle outside the Detroit art studio where they were eventually found.
Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Sam Marzban was among the responding officers at the school the day of the shooting. In his testimony, Marzban said he observed the shooter’s phone at the scene, which had two unread texts from his parents. The text from Jennifer Crumbley read “Ethan don’t do it,” and the text from James read “Ethan call me now.”
A potential for precedent
Prosecutors are accusing Jennifer and James Crumbley of being grossly negligent as parents, ignoring signs their son could become violent and instead buying him the gun he used to kill four classmates at Oxford High in November 2021.
The cases could set a national precedent for whether a parent can be held criminally responsible for the actions of their child.
Testimony provided by prosecution witnesses throughout the week paint a picture of a seeming lack of concern by the Crumbleys about their son’s troubling behavior, which included possible hallucinations and signs of depression.
On Monday, school counselor Shawn Hopkins testified that he took Ethan out of class the morning of the massacre because of a violent picture he drew on a math worksheet that made Hopkins fear Ethan might be experiencing suicidal ideation. James and Jennifer Crumbley both came to the school to speak with Hopkins about the matter that morning, during which he insisted they immediately seek counseling for their son and provided resources.
But Hopkins told prosecutors the parents refused to take Ethan home after the brief meeting, and seemed more interested in returning to their jobs.
“Once we had kind of gotten to that point I allowed the student to go back to class. And then ‘Mom’ asked if we were done,” Hopkins told Keast.
“Those were her words, ‘Are we done?'” Keast replied.
“Yes,” Hopkins said, adding that his response to Jennifer was “I guess so.”
A few hours later, Ethan pulled a 9mm handgun from his backpack and shot 11 people inside the school.
Hopkins had previously refused to cooperate with an independent investigation that found he failed to alert the school principal about the son’s behavior, which would have triggered a threat assessment of the shooter.
Former Oxford High School Dean of Students Nicholas Ejak testified on Tuesday that school officials weren’t aware Ethan had access to a handgun, and therefore had no “reasonable suspicion to search the backpack” at that time. He also testified that the school did not see him as a threat.
In a Facebook message to Meloche, Jennifer Crumbley blamed school officials for not insisting she and her husband take their son home that morning.
“The whole conversation was very nonchalant,” she said in the message. “‘Oh here’s a list of counselors, but we don’t see him as a threat.’…and we just agreed because he’s never done anything wrong!!”
Prosecutors aim to rest their case by the end of the week and Jennifer is expected to take the stand in the coming days. James Crumbley, who also faces four counts of involuntary manslaughter, will stand trial in March.
WDET’s Alex McLenon contributed to this report.