Jury selection underway in James Crumbley manslaughter trial

The trial comes only weeks after his wife, Jennifer Crumbley, was found guilty of the same charges in connection to the fatal shooting at Oxford High School carried out by their son.

James Crumbley enters the courtroom during his motion hearing at Oakland County Courthouse, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Pontiac, Mich.

James Crumbley enters the courtroom during his motion hearing at Oakland County Courthouse, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Pontiac, Mich.

Jury selection began on Tuesday at the manslaughter trial of the father whose teenage son shot and killed four classmates and wounded seven other people at Oxford High School in 2021.

The trial comes only weeks after the shooter’s mother was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Constructing a jury without bias

Before the trial for James Crumbley began, his attorneys asked for a change of venue — a motion the judge denied.

But it might be hard to find a prospective juror in all of Oakland County who has not heard about the shooting at Oxford High. Or one who does not have an opinion about the parents prosecutors accuse of ignoring their son’s mental health needs and instead buying him a handgun as a present.

It might prove even more difficult because teenager Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty to the mass murders and told prosecutors in the court room that day he had no trouble gaining access to the gun.

A prosecutor asked Crumbley in the midst of his guilty plea, “Is it true on November 30, 2021, when you obtained the firearm it was not kept in a locked container or a safe?”

“Yes, it was not locked,” the teen replied.

That alleged carelessness with storing the weapon is one reason prosecutors took the rare step of charging Crumbley’s parents with involuntary manslaughter.

Last month, Jennifer Crumbley took the stand in her trial and testified that she was not to blame for the crime her son committed. She said it was James Crumbley’s responsibility to secure the weapons at their home.

“I just didn’t feel comfortable being in charge of that,” she said. “It was more his thing so I let him handle that.”

A more sympathetic defendant

A jury still found Jennifer Crumbley guilty of the same involuntary manslaughter charges that James Crumbley now faces.

And prosecutors indicate they’ll present some of the same evidence during his trial they used against his wife.

That includes journal entries and text messages his son sent to a friend that claimed James Crumbley would not take Ethan to a doctor but rather gave him some pills and told him to “suck it up.”

Defense attorneys argue it’s not fair to use that evidence since they cannot question Ethan Crumbley, who’s weighing an appeal of his life-without-parole sentence and won’t testify.

But some legal experts say James Crumbley still may have an advantage in his trial.

University of Michigan law professor Ekow Yankah notes prosecutors portrayed Jennifer Crumbley as indifferent to her son’s behavior. Yet testimony revealed James Crumbley was dealing with the death of his mother and video showed him repeatedly telling his son he loved him.

“You have a new jury. You’ve got a slightly more, perhaps, sympathetic defendant,” Yankah said.

He adds that information made public at Jennifer Crumbley’s trial became available to her husband’s defense team as well.

“The fact that they have seen this trial before,” Yankah said. “The fact that they’re going to know the prosecution’s evidence and even points of emphasis.”

The people versus James Crumbley

But Yankah says the prosecution also has a strong argument against James Crumbley.

Namely that both he and his wife could have likely stopped their son from going on a killing spree at Oxford High if they had only taken a few small steps. If they had taken Ethan home from school the day of the shooting, if they told officials they had just bought him a gun, if they had not laughed-off news that he was looking up bullets on his phone during class, Yankah believes the murders might never have happened.

“When parents beforehand are teasing and joking about whether or not their son is researching ammunition, what they’re ignoring is broken and dead bodies on the other side. Any prosecutor wants to bring that home,” Yankah said.

He adds that James Crumbley’s trial could change a legal precedent just set in his wife’s case. That jury held Jennifer Crumbley criminally-responsible for the actions of her son.

If a new jury finds James Crumbley innocent of those charges, judges might say the first verdict was simply an outlier.

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  • Quinn Klinefelter
    Quinn Klinefelter is a Senior News Editor at 101.9 WDET. In 1996, he was literally on top of the news when he interviewed then-Senator Bob Dole about his presidential campaign and stepped on his feet.