Pontiac — The accused Oxford High shooting suspect is expected to plead guilty next week to charges that carry up to life in prison, an Oakland County Prosecutor’s office spokesman confirmed Friday.
Ethan Crumbley, 16, is facing 24 felony charges including terrorism and first-degree premeditated murder in the Nov. 30 shooting that killed Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana and Justin Shilling, and wounded six students and a teacher. He faces up to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
“We can confirm that the shooter is expected to plead guilty to all 24 charges, including terrorism, and the prosecutor has notified the victims,” Chief Assistant Prosecutor David Williams told The Detroit News in a statement following an Associated Press report. Williams would not elaborate and declined to answer questions.
Crumbley is scheduled Monday morning for what was expected to be a routine in-person pretrial hearing before Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Kwame Rowe. It’s unclear how a plea could affect the hearing and defense attorneys’ previous intention to seek an insanity defense. The defense attorneys did not immediately return calls Friday seeking comment.
Crumbley’s attorneys originally planned to mount an insanity defense of the teenager, who was 15 at the time of the shooting. Attorney Paulette Michel Loftin told The Detroit News in January that she and fellow defense attorney Amy Hopp believed Crumbley is mentally competent, but were going to argue he wasn’t criminally responsible at the time of the alleged shooting — specifically whether he had the ability to conform his actions to the law or knew the difference between right and wrong.
Experts said the defense team had an “uphill battle” trying to mount an insanity defense. William Amadeo of McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, a defense attorney with a history of defending people with mental health issues, said it’s exceedingly rare for Michigan defendants to be found incompetent to stand trial, let alone not guilty by reason of insanity.
Earlier Friday, the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office sent an email to subscribers of the Oxford criminal case that said Crumbley “may decide to plead guilty rather than have a trial” on Monday at the scheduled pretrial hearing.
“Based on statements by the shooter’s attorney, the prosecution team expects that he will choose to plead guilty, but we will not know for certain until the hearing is underway on Monday. We want you to be aware that the prosecution is not dismissing or reducing any of the charges, nor is a ‘plea bargain’ of any sort being offered to the shooter,” according to the email by Mary Larkin, a Victim Services Leader in the prosecutor’s office.
Crumbley is charged with one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
But if Crumbley doesn’t enter a guilty plea on Monday, the Prosecutor’s Office expects the trial will remain set for Jan. 17, Larkin wrote.
Mixed reactions in Oxford
Lori Bourgeau, an Oxford parent whose son was inside the high school at the time of the shooting, said Friday that news of an impending guilty plea concerns her.
“We were told we would find out the facts about the day and the days leading up to Nov. 30 during the trial. How do we find out now? How do we understand the mistakes?” Bourgeau said.
Bourgeau criticized the school district’s “third-party” investigation into the attack as a “paid-for investigation” that would not result in a full disclosure of facts and culpability. The district has refused Attorney General Dana Nessel’s offer to conduct the outside investigation.
“It was reassuring there would be day we would find out what happen and be able to advocate for change in Michigan schools. It feels like a real loss to all of Michigan by not putting those facts out there,” Bourgeau said.
Tom Donnelly, former president of the Oxford board of education, said Friday he is thankful for the development.
“I had hoped that prior to the anniversary of the shooting, this community would experience something like this,” Donnelly said. “I think what this does is prevents a long, drawn-out trial, which is just painful even if the result is to your favor. This is an admission and a guilty plea and at least that chapter can be over with no question about Ethan.”
Donnelly, who resigned last month after alleging that district lawyers withheld documents connected to the Nov. 30 massacre, said he had also hoped the community would get the answers it wanted about what happened leading up to the shooting.
“I am saddened they are not going to get that,” he said. “The third-party investigation will continue. They can still do a thorough investigation.”
Korey Bailey, the former Oxford school board treasurer, said a guilty plea would give the Oxford community some relief, but it needs accountability from the district for its role in the tragedy.
“They are still looking for the school district to hold people accountable who didn’t take threat assessment seriously. … Until the school district is willing to admit they failed at threat assessments and they are going to fix it going forward, the community won’t get what they are looking for,” Bailey said.
No effect on parents’ trial
If the teenager pleads guilty, Larkin said the Oakland County prosecution team does not expect it to affect the so far unscheduled January trial date in his parents’ case.
Attorneys for James and Jennifer Crumbley didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The parents are charged with involuntary manslaughter for what prosecutors allege was gross negligence including purchasing a handgun for their son, not securing the weapon, not removing him from the school when notified of disturbing behavior and not advising school officials of the handgun. The Crumbley parents’ attorneys have argued they didn’t know about their son’s plans and they tried to lock up the gun.
The parents’ lawyers also have said previously that they might call their son as a witness in their trial. Shannon Smith told Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews in late June that Ethan Crumbley “could be called to provide information related to events leading up to the shooting.”
Crumbley had just appeared Thursday before Judge Rowe for a virtual placement hearing regarding his incarceration at the Oakland County Jail. During the hearing, the prosecutor’s office and Crumbley’s defense attorneys all told Rowe there was nothing new to report on the teenager’s status and Rowe ordered him to remain in the jail.
In court filings, attorneys have described Crumbley as a teenager troubled by hallucinations, including a demon living in his house. His parents rebuffed his pleas for mental health counseling and instead bought him a handgun and took him to a gun range to learn how to fire the weapon, investigators said.
When teachers became concerned about some of his behavior in school — including violent drawings on homework exercises and searching for ammunition on his cellphone — his parents were called to the school on Nov. 30 and refused to remove him from school. He was permitted to return to class with his unsearched school backpack, which authorities believed contained his handgun, ammunition and a journal with his plans to shoot people at the school.
Within two hours the shooting took place, and he was arrested by officers.
“James and Jennifer Crumbley did not know that a murder would be committed,” attorney Shannon Smith said at a Feb. 25 hearing, where she also indicated that the teenager had at least two social media accounts his parents didn’t follow and might not have been aware of.
All three Crumbleys are being held at the Oakland County jail, though Ethan is kept away from adults.
Staff Writer Kara Berg contributed.