PONTIAC, Mich. (FOX 2) - When Jennifer Crumbley arrived in court for the trial connected to the Oxford High School shooting, her attorney's opening statement used a Taylor Swift lyric to argue that the prosecution is trying to fix a big problem with a Band-Aid.
The Taylor Swift song ‘Bad Blood’ features the line "Band-aids don't fix bullet holes" – which defense attorney Shannon Smith argues is exactly what the Oakland County Prosecutor is trying to do.
"And that's what this case is about. It's about prosecution attempting to put a Band-Aid on problems that can't be fixed with a Band-Aid,"
More than two years since her 15-year-old son pulled a 9 mm and killed four students inside Oxford High School, the trial of his mother for involuntary manslaughter is underway – an unprecedented trial in connection to a high school shooting.
The prosecution opened by laying out the case – which Marc Keast argues is not about being a bad parent.
Smith spoke next for 25 minutes as she walked the jury through evidence that they would discuss throughout the case, including text messages, drawings, notes, and the meeting on the morning of the shooting.
"The prosecution has charged Jennifer Crumnley with involuntary manslaughter. In an effort to make the community feel better, in an effort to make people feel like someone is being held responsible, in an effort to send a message to gun owners, and none of those problems will be solved by charging Jennifer Crumbley with involuntary manslaughter. It's the same effect when your child comes to you with a boo boo and you give them a Band-Aid that they put on that doesn't take away the pain and can't undo what's happened to them. And in this case, a Band-Aid will never bring back the lives that were lost by Hana. Justin, Tate Myre, and Madison Baldwin," Smith said.
She doesn't argue that the evidence isn't traumatic – she said it is and argues that there's no reason to show it. She said Jennifer agrees that the Nov. 30, 2021 shooting was horrific and the worst possible thing that could have happened.
"So as we're watching the evidence, I ask you to keep in mind that much of what the prosecution is going to show you is going to alarm you and disgust you and be horrifically sad and tragic. But that evidence is about Ethan," Smith said.
The prosecution, defense, and Matthews have all agreed to not use the shooter's name – but throughout her opening statement Smith did so multiple times.
Smith argues that Crumbley was an attentive mother and that, during the shooting, immediately wanted to know where her son was.
"Prior to November 30th, Jennifer Crumbley was the mother to a 15-year-old son, and she did not have it on her radar in any way that there was any mental disturbance that her son would ever take gun into a school, that her son would ever shoot people. The evidence at trial is going to show you that Jennifer Crumbley did the best she could as a mother to a child who grew up into a teenager and had no way to know what was going to happen," she said. "Jennifer Crumbley raised a son that she took to soccer practice. Basketball. Bowling. She's the kind of mother who, when a mole on his back changed color – a one-millimeter mole – she took him to urgent care. She's the kind of mother who's texting her husband, who is at home, working from home. Where is Ethan? Where is Ethan? Where is Ethan? At 314 in the afternoon, getting texts back, saying Ethan gets home at 316. What's your problem? And she keeps texting. Where is he? Where is he? You will see that, if anything. Jennifer Crumbley was a hyper-vigilant mother who cared more about her son than anything in the world."
Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of the Oxford High School shooter, appears in court on Thursday, Jan. 25.
She doesn't argue that Jennifer was a perfect mother and that the evidence pulled by the prosecutor will be selective to try to convince the jury to believe something was wrong with the shooter and that Jennifer should have known.
"And at the end of the day, these slivers of evidence that are going to be presented to you will have no context and no explanation. And the defense will agree that on their face it looks bad. But like any of you who look back at text messages sent a year ago, they may look bad without context and explanation. And so we would ask that you reserve any judgment on these slivers of evidence until the defense presents evidence itself and we will be presenting evidence in this case to show the context and what was truly happening on these days that the prosecution is going to try to make you believe something more was happening," she said.
Smith said Jennifer wasn't part of the gun purchase or shooting that James and their son took part in, aside from driving to the gun range and shooting the weapon.
"You are going to hear evidence that James and Ethan went to the shooting range often. That James was responsible for storing the guns. And to be quite frank, Jennifer Crumbley didn't know anything about guns. Jennifer Crumbley will hear evidence she went to the shooting range one time with James and the shooter, and she went a second time after the gun was bought. She was attempting to find a way to spend time with her son who had just lost a dog. His friend had moved away from him. She's trying to find a way to connect to him. But on that day when Jennifer Crumbley went to the shooting range, you will hear evidence that she didn't even know where the gun was or how to put it in the car. She had her husband prepare the gun to take it to the range he had hidden the gun in the bedroom of their home. The gun had a cable lock, a trigger lock in place. James Crumbley had the key to the trigger lock that kept the gun secure. James Crumbley used the trigger lock. He took the trigger. The cable lock off, put the gun in the back of Mrs. Crumbley's car. Mrs. Crumbley simply drove to the gun range. You will see video of their experience of the gun range, and you will see that the shooter is the one showing Mrs. Crumbley how to use the gun at the range. And when they're done at the range, the gun was placed back in the backseat of the car, not back seat. Put the back of an SUV and Jennifer Crumbley drove home and not being a response liable for storing the gun and not even knowing where the gun specifically placed. Jennifer Crumbley left the gun locked in the trunk, the back part of her SUV and James Crumbley was responsible for getting the gun out, putting the trigger lock back and storing the gun. And Mrs. Crumbley had nothing to do with that part of what happened."
The drawings that the shooter had made before the shooting, Smith says Jennifer was alarmed about her son's behavior
"Jennifer freaks out when she sees the drawing. You will see the text messages that show she's urgently texting her husband, ‘emergency, call me now’ and she races out of work and goes to the school," she said. "Upon arriving at the school, she meets with Sean Hopkins, the school counselor. She meets with Nick Ejak, the school principal, and she meets with James Crumbley and the shooter. And they are all in a room together where the shooter explains why he has put together this drawing and what the drawing means. The family and the school talk about how a counselor would be a good idea for Ethan."
Smith said the meeting was not as severe as Jennifer had been expecting and that the school allowed the shooter to return to the classroom.
"Trained professionals at the school who evaluate children represent that the shooter is of no risk to anyone, and they allow him to stay in school," she said.
Jennifer did not refuse to take her child, Smith said. Instead, she was given the option of taking him home or leaving him there but chose to leave him in school due to his struggling performance during COVID.
"The school was fine with it. Mrs. Crumbley didn't leave school and left the shooter at the school, not knowing he was going to become the shooter within the next few hours,"
In the days after the shooting, a text message that Jennifer sent was published in court where she texted the shooter "Ethan, don't do it". Smith said Jennifer was concerned about her son's mental well-being and that she was concerned he was considering suicide.
"Mrs. Crumbley becomes concerned that the shooter is actually attempting suicide. And Jennifer Crumbley texted her son 'Ethan, don't do it'. It still has not crossed her mind that he would ever shoot another person," she said.
Later on Nov. 30, 2021, Jennifer saw her son at the police station.
"For the first time when he looks at her, his eyes looked black. And it was a son she did not recognize," Smith said.
After their son was taken into custody, the Crumbley parents went home, but police took their phones. She explained that's why the Crumbley parents bought burner phones and that they fled their home because they felt unsafe.
"They begin to realize that there are death threats around their house. People are planning riots around their house and they cannot be in their home. Jennifer Crumbly and James Crumley drive to a hotel where they spend the night. They are trying to figure out what is happening and all Jennifer can think about are the things she believes she can control, like keeping a job, keeping health insurance, figuring out money, figuring out lawyers and trying to digest what has just absolutely tragically unfolded," Smith said.
She argues that the Crumbley parents weren't running and weren't hiding and that they pulled money out of their bank accounts to ensure they could afford to live – and afford an attorney.
"They withdraw all of the money from their bank account, the burner phones they're using. They can't get access to any of their accounts because of this two-part authentication you now have to do. So they go to the Metro PCS store where they buy new telephones that they can actually use to access their social media, their accounts, their contacts, and they end up with multiple cell phones. After that, they work to find lawyers. They don't know what to do. They don't understand what they're being charged with. They're under the stress of knowing their son is going to is gone and life will never be the same," Smith said.
Smith also says the Crumbley parents were not hiding in an artist's basement – but that they were planning to turn themselves in to police the next morning, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
"They are at their friend's art studio. They are waiting for instructions and they are waiting to turn themselves in first thing Saturday morning, when arraignments take place of the court. James and Jennifer Crumley are sleeping on a mattress in the middle of the night when police locate them, you will hear evidence They're not really hiding. They're standing outside their car, their vehicle smoking cigarettes. They're standing outside their car, talking on the telephone. They're communicating with various people they know. There's absolutely no evidence to suggest that they're fleeing. You will see body camera footage where one police officers comes into the art studio to find them dead asleep on this mattress. They are cooperative. They are taken into custody and they are arrested."
Saying that the prosecution has ‘grossly misconstrued facts’, Smith said Jennifer Crumbley will testify on her own behalf.
"She is going to take the stand and tell you about her life with her son, about the day he became the shooter and about the day he did something she could have never anticipated or fathomed or predicted. She will tell you that when she saw the materials in this case, she learned that her son had not been her son for months, that he had been manipulating her, that he had been hiding things from her, that he had been sending text messages, alarming text messages to other people, you will hear that the school never advised Mrs. Crumbley of problematic issues, that if she had heard about, she would have jumped right on top of it, despite the fact the evidence will show that Mrs. Crumbley is on Power Schools managing missing by her son and his grades," she said.
As Smith wrapped up her opening statement, she indicated the school never alerted Jennifer of the shooter's problems in school, including falling asleep, being called to the office, a project where the shooter says he feels terrible and like a mistake, or that he was having a ‘rough time’ in school.
"You will hear testimony that the school never notified Mr. Crumbley. That previous work found in the shooter's files showed that it leaned a little bit toward the violent side. You will hear testimony that the school never told Mrs. Crumbley about an index card the shooter wrote in class that had odd responses with a drawing of a loaded gun magazine and a person holding it out. You will hear that Mrs. Crumbley was never told much of the information the school had, and so when the prosecution is urging you not to assign fault anyone else. At the end of the day, we ask that you pay attention to the evidence that Mrs. Crumbley knew. And quite frankly, when you evaluate that evidence and know what she knew and what she didn't know, and learn the context behind the slivers of evidence this prosecution is presenting, you will see that this was absolutely, not foreseeable. This was absolutely not expected. And I am going to ask that you find Jennifer crumbly, not guilty of involuntary manslaughter," Smith said.