The parents of accused Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley will have no influence, and likely no insight, into their juvenile son’s high-stakes criminal case or life in the near term, legal experts say.

Ethan Crumbley and his parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, are deliberately estranged, and the teen’s court-appointed lawyer, Paulette Michel Loftin, does not plan to cooperate with the parents’ legal team despite a long tradition of attorneys following formal and informal agreements to share information.

The 15-year-old and his lawyer are expected to make all decisions in a criminal case charging the Oxford High School sophomore as an adult 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.

School Shooting Michigan

From left, James Crumbley and Jennifer Crumbley Oakland County Sheriff’s Office via AP

Loftin does not anticipate cooperating with the parents’ legal team because James and Jennifer Crumbley and their son are not co-defendants, and the parents and son have different cases with different judges, the lawyer wrote in an email to The Detroit News on Sunday.

“Also the charges are vastly different,” Loftin wrote. “The cases will never be heard together.”

Such joint defense agreements, which also lets defense teams share privileged communications, have been used in high-profile cases in recent years, including among five men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and in a state case charging former Gov. Rick Snyder and eight others with crimes related to the Flint water crisis.


Loftin not cooperating with lawyers for the teen’s parents could be a wise move, legal experts say, due to the possibility Ethan blames the Nov. 30 shooting on his mother, father and upbringing.

“He is sort of in a no-person’s land,” said Ann Arbor lawyer Deborah LaBelle, who has worked extensively in defending juveniles.

As of late last week, it is believed that there has been no communication between the parents and son, all of whom are being held at the Oakland County Jail as their lawyers focused on the early stages of their respective defenses.

Ethan Crumbley became an adult, in the criminal justice system’s eyes, as soon as Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald decided to charge him as one. That decision came one day after police say he brought a Sig Sauer 9 mm semi-automatic pistol to school and killed four classmates in the nation’s deadliest school shooting since 2018.

He faces up to life in prison without parole if convicted, and is scheduled to participate in a probable cause conference at 1:15 p.m. Monday in a Rochester Hills courtroom.

James and Jennifer Crumbley, who are jailed in lieu of a combined $1 million bond, are each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17. Each involuntary manslaughter charge against the Crumbleys carries the penalty of up to 15 years in prison.


Ethan’s parents are expected to have no input into his care or defense while criminal charges are pending against all three. The parents’ probable cause conference is set for 1:15 p.m. Tuesday in Rochester Hills.

James and Jennifer Crumbley knew their son had access to an unsecured weapon in their home, were aware he had been caught searching the internet for ammunition but did not help prevent the massacre, the prosecutor said. The parents bought the pistol for Ethan as an early Christmas present but failed to secure the weapon at home, according to the government.

The parents hired lawyers Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman. Lehman has said the couple was “absolutely devastated” about the mass shooting.

Smith, who is representing Jennifer Crumbley, said the gun was locked at home before the shooting: “When you listen to the prosecution’s facts in the case … it does sound like it was an absolutely egregious wrongdoing on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Crumbley … that they gave their child a gun and encouraged him to do this. … That’s just not the case.”

The parents and their son appear to have divergent defense strategies, Birmingham lawyer Wade Fink said.

“His defense is not going to jail for life, not that he didn’t do it,” Fink said. “Sometimes, when you have co-defendants or related parties, they benefit from working together. Here, however, it seems to me that no matter what the defenses are for either side, they’re going to be incongruous.”


Joint defense agreements have been used in several high-profile criminal cases in state and federal courts.

The sharing of information among lawyers for the nine Flint water defendants has been essential, said Detroit lawyer William Swor, who represents former Flint Emergency Manager Gerald Ambrose.

“The state is telling us they’re going to give us 21 million documents one day, so this helps because technology, costs and information can be shared and you’re not reinventing the wheel every time,” Swor said.

There is a clear line, however, that cannot be crossed.

“The lawyers for the Crumbleys can ask for information, but the lawyer for the son can’t do anything to prejudice their client,” Swor said.

That line helps explain why the Crumbleys were able to retain lawyers as their son received court-appointed counsel.

“Lawyers are obligated to their own client, that’s first and foremost,” Swor said. “That’s why it would have become dicey if the parents were paying for their son’s lawyer when they were under investigation.”

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