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Documentary gives insight on Crumbley prosecutors’ thoughts before, during parents’ trial

Kara Berg – The Detroit News (TNS)

The ABC News Studios documentary about the prosecution of James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of the Oxford High School shooter, is now available on Hulu, and while it delves into prosecutors’ mindsets while charging and prosecuting the case, little previously unheard information was revealed.

The documentary began with a bird’s-eye view of Oxford, then footage of the Crumbley’s Oxford home overlaid with James’ panicked 911 call from the day of the shooting.

“I have a missing gun at my house,” James said. “I have a missing gun and my son is at the school. … I don’t know if it was him, I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m really freaking out.”

ABC was granted “exclusive access” inside the prosecutor’s office for over two years as staff members prepped for the trial, and the documentary includes never-before-seen comments from prosecutors about the case.

The criminal proceedings against James and Jennifer Crumbley were the first in the United States against parents of a school mass shooter for involuntary manslaughter.

Both Crumbleys were convicted of four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each of the four children who were killed Nov. 30, 2021, by the Crumbleys’ son: Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17. They were sentenced April 9 to 10-15 years in prison, the maximum they could have received.

Shooter Ethan Crumbley was sentenced to life without parole, but has indicated he might appeal.

Prosecutor Karen McDonald, Assistant Prosecutor Marc Keast and Chief Assistant Prosecutor David Williams were the three primary prosecutors on the case and were the three featured in the documentary.

McDonald said the thought that she could have put the community through both prosecutions and fail to win convictions was “almost too much to bear.”

“This is terrible, this is torture,” McDonald said about her feelings going into the trial. “This is I can’t eat, sleep, I think I might throw up, awfulness.”

While the documentary primarily focused on prosecutors and trial footage, reporters did talk to Steve St. Juliana, Hana’s father; Craig Shilling, Justin’s father; and Meghan Gregory, Keegan Gregory’s mother. Keegan was not shot but was in the bathroom with Justin when he was killed.

The documentary featured brief comments from James’ attorney, Mariell Lehman, but it primarily focused on the prosecution. Jennifer’s attorney, Shannon Smith, is shown in court but was not interviewed.

“I think that James Crumbley was made out to be someone that he’s not,” Lehman said. “The morning of the shooting, he was a sophomore in high school’s father. By 1:30 that afternoon he was the father of a school shooter. And by Dec. 3, he was a monster. And I think that theme carried throughout the prosecution in this case.”

The narrator of the documentary never says the shooter’s name. The only person who identifies him is Oxford High School Assistant Principal Kristy Gibson-Marshall, who testified at both trials.

Choosing to prosecute the parents

Keast said one of the first questions McDonald asked after the shooting was where the shooter got the gun. The shooter said during his plea hearing that the gun was not locked away.

McDonald said they knew the Crumbleys were called to the school the morning of Nov. 30, 2021, for a meeting with a counselor, the dean of students and their son after a teacher found he had drawn concerning pictures and statements on a math worksheet.

They knew about the texts from Jennifer to the shooter after he got caught looking up bullets on his phone in class: “Lol. I’m not mad. You have to learn not to get caught.”

She said when police presented her office with their case against the shooter, she asked them about the parents. They learned more information as the week went on, and James’ 911 call and entries in the shooter’s journal stuck out, she said.

“Everything else we learned just made it worse,” McDonald said.

Keast said McDonald asked everyone in the room during a strategy session before the Crumbleys were charged about their thoughts on the parents’ case but said flat out they would be charging them.

“(She said) ‘I’m telling you right now we’re charging the parents.’ And then she walked out,” Keast said.

Prosecution strategy sessions

It shows strategy meetings with groups of prosecutors talking about what would be powerful evidence: Video of the shooter’s stance in the school, compared to video of him at the shooting range.

Keast talked about his surprise in finding out at a pretrial hearing in 2022 that the Crumbleys wanted to put the shooter on the stand to “excuse their own liability.”

The documentary showed footage of the shooter’s plea hearing, where the shooter confirmed the gun he used in the shooting “was not locked.”

Williams also expressed his thoughts on Smith’s opening statements in Jennifer’s trial, where she equated the case to a Taylor Swift song she listened to that morning that mentioned how Band-Aids cannot “stop bullet holes.”

“We were all stunned when she gave her opening statement and said that she was listening to Taylor Swift on the way in this morning to calm her nerves and warm up her voice and it occurred to her that Band-Aids over bullet holes was what this case was really about,” Williams said. “I hope Taylor Swift heard that because it was really offensive and bizarre.”

During the trial, prosecutors were still debating whether or not they should call Brian Meloche, the man Jennifer was having an affair with. McDonald said Smith’s cross examination would be limited because Smith didn’t want the information about the affair presented to the jury. But Smith ultimately allowed that information to be presented, opening the door to questions about the affair.

“The only reason that we called Brian Meloche is that she told him that day that she was worried her kid was going to do something stupid,” McDonald said. “The only reason we ever fought to admit evidence of that affair was to show that there was so much time being spent outside of work in those endeavors, and it wasn’t just one.”

Jury foreman in James’ trial speaks out

Gregory Beaudry, jury foreman, was interviewed for the documentary. He did not say much about the jury’s decision, but said the first informal vote after they went back to deliberate was nine guilty, two not guilty and one undecided.

“It wasn’t easy, a lot of emotions and that’s why it took over 10 hours,” Beaudry said. “The first I could think of was how did the kid get a gun?”

The jury foreperson for Jennifer Crumbley’s trial, who has identified herself only by her first name Alex, told reporters a key factor in the jury’s decision was that Jennifer was the last adult seen with the gun. Jennifer had gone to a shooting range with her son a few days before the massacre, and testified the 9mm handgun remained in her car afterward with the expectation James Crumbley would lock it up.

“Lives hung in the balance, and we took that seriously,” she said. “… The thing that really hammered it home is that she was the last adult with the gun.”

©2024 The Detroit News. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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