PONTIAC, Mich. (FOX 2) - The question of whether Ethan Crumbley belongs in the Oakland County Jail or Children's Village while he awaits trial for the murder of four students at Oxford High School is now in the hands of a judge after gripping testimony and stunning details were released the prosecutor's office on Tuesday.
Crumbley was in court for a hearing on whether the teen should be transferred out of Oakland County jail and into the juvenile detention center. During the hearing, we learned details about his education access while in jail and more including his commissary funds.
Crumbley was charged as an adult with the murder of four students, Tate Myre, 16, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Hana St. Juliana, 14, and Justin Shilling, 17. According to authorities, Crumbley shot and killed the four students with a 9 mm Sig Sauer.
Under Michigan law, minors held in adult facilities must be evaluated every month by a judge. The first evaluation happened on Jan. 21 to determine if the adult facility is still appropriate. The January hearing was brief while the February hearing went for close to three hours as the prosecution and defense questioned witnesses regarding Crumbley's custody in the adult facility.
Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Markeisha Washington opened the hearing with information about Crumbley's actions before the shooting on November 30 and argued that, while Crumbley is 15-years-old, his actions and behavior reflect someone of an older age.
"The evidence will show that despite the defendant's biological age, he discussed topics and interest well beyond that of an avg 15-year-old. in a text thread with his friend and in his journal, he outlined a plan to stalk, rape, torture, and ultimately kill a female classmate," Washington said.
Additionally, Washington said that he wrote in his journal about torturing a bird and wanting to follow the likes of Adolph Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer and how he wanted to be remembered in this world
"He expressed delight in torturing a family of baby birds and he wrote about the joy he received in listening to them squeal as he killed them. He spoke of his adoration of Adolph Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer. Specifically stating ‘when you die, you need to be remembered for a long time by doing something that will make people think of you until time ends’," Washington said.
Prior to the shooting at Oxford High School, Washington said Crumbley described in detail his plan for the shooting.
"In his journal, he described the type of gun he needed, who his first victim would be, and ultimately he expressed that he would surrender so that he could witness the pain and suffering that the caused," she said.
All of that goes to show that Crumbley is more sophisticated than most 15-year-olds, Washington said, and that his actions were both ‘calculated and methodic’. She also stated that Crumbley identified himself as ‘the next school shooter’ in a video on Nov. 29 and tried to justify his future actions.
"To place this defendant with other at-risk juveniles who are presumably the same age as his victims would be contrary to the rehabilitation of those at children's village and pose a potential risk of harm to their safety," Washington said.
Lastly, she said that Crumbley ‘enjoyed his dark side’ and was fascinated with violence, weapons, and seeing others suffer.
"He bragged about wearing a mask to the public. He enjoyed his dark side. the defendant isn't who he appears to be," Washington said. "When the defendant committed those pre-meditated murders on Nov. 30th, he did so with the intent to be remembered, to terrorize the community, and to gain recognition."
Her argument for keeping Crumbley in the Oakland County Jail is that he is not completely isolated, has access to a TV, tablet for communication and education, access to books, and a commissary account.
Crumbley's attorneys respond
Defense attorney Paulette Michel Loftin had a chance next for her opening statements and said that, among the information the Washington presented, most of it doesn't apply for the events of Nov. 30.
"Only one part of those factors are the allegations and the events surrounding the charges. There are a number of other things that the court must look at. I believe the evidence will show that in the time leading up to these events, that my client was hallucinating; that he was seeing things; that he was hearing voices; that he was not sleeping; he was extremely anxious, and he asked his parents to see a therapist," Loftin said.
She said that the cement cell with a glass window is not an appropriate place for a 15-year-old and, while there is a deputy that looks in on him every 15 minutes, he's otherwise isolated.
"This extreme isolation is actually not beneficial whatsoever and actually harms Mr. Crumbley," Loftin said.
Yes, she said, he does have a phone but he can't call any family members as he doesn't have their phone numbers. Additionally, he can get access to email so he does get to communicate with the outside world but those are not people that he knows.
"I do not think that is enough to argue that he is not being isolated," she said. "He interacts with a counselor or caseworker for minutes each day. The Oakland County Jail is not equipped for handling juveniles in respect to any kind of activity."
"Although he is educated and a very bright young man, I still think the appropriate place for him is the Children's Village," Loftin said.
Witnesses called in Crumbley hearing
On Tuesday, three witnesses were called to discuss the placement of Crumbley:
- Christina Belling with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office: works with inmates in the jail
- Heather Calcaterra, manager of Oakland County Children's Village
- Oakland County Sheriff Captain Thomas Bida: oversees the jail and operations.
Belling testified about the watch that Crumbley was under when he was first brought it. He was under a constant watch with a deputy posted outside the cell to 'ensure his safety and security'. He was eventually taken off of constant watch and reduced to behavior watch, which requires the 15-minute check-in.
Due to confidentiality laws, Belling could not explain why or how Crumbley was ultimately taken off of constant watch but said she had no concerns about his health, which is why he was removed from suicide watch.
Calcaterra spoke about the ability of Children's Village to hold offenders, named residents in the facility, There are currently 38 juveniles in custody, none of them are facing murder charges. Calcaterra was later questioned by the defense and said, while there is not anyone in the facility now charged with murder, they have had such cases in the past.
She testified Children's Village is meant to be a temporary facility until the residents are able to return home or move forward. Calcaterra said she's familiar with Crumbley's case and, if he were in Children's Village, he would be among peers.
Residents do not have access to tv, tablet, movies, or video games in their rooms. She said they each get up to two items for reading - books, magazines, etc.
Calcaterra said all residents must attend schooling in some fashion, which is a state law, teachers from the Waterford school district teach students at Children's Village and students do their homework after school lessons end around 3:15 during the week.
To her knowledge, Calcaterra said education is not provided to minors in the Oakland County Jail.
Bida was the final witness to testify on Tuesday and said in the jail, Crumbley has access to to education through the inmate's tablet system. The tablets are shared among inmates but they each have their own personal logins. The tablets also allow access to email, games, and movies on the tablet, Bida said, all of which were approved for all inmates when the tablets were first introduced.
Bida said that Crumbley entered the facility with no money in his commissary account but classified the amount in there now, in comparison to other inmates, is "pretty excessive".
He said anyone can contribute to his account.
When Loftin had her time to question Bida, she asked about the constant watch the Crumbley is under and established that he could not contribute to his own commissary while under his previous watch.
Bida described his cell as being a medical unit, meaning the light in his cell is never turned off.
The defense questioned the access to education, which Bida said is on the tablet through the Kahn Academy. Crumbley's defense team questioned if the education is adequate for what the law requires.
Crumbley hearing closing arguments
With all three witnesses finished testifying, Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Collins delivered her closing arguments, calling the crime on Nov. 30 a 'calculated and premeditated mass murder of juveniles and placing a 15-year-old at a child care facility and surrounding him with other juveniles is inappropriate.
"The evidence presented to you during this hearing shows a deeper and more calculated mind than any 15 year old," Collins said. "The evidence shows what he's capable of thinking, concealing, and doing when he's ready."
She referred to messages with a friend from Crumbley where he expresses confidence in his friend to be himself.
"In one of his texts, he tells his friend that he's so glad they can talk to one and another and not let their ‘masks slip’. The defendant appreciates that his friend is ‘the one person who is as f****ed as me and shares it’." Collins said.
She said Crumbley went on to say ‘the scary thing is I like being this f****ed up’.
"He talks about in his texts and in his journal that he wants to explore his darkness and make them suffer and hear them screams." she said.
Collins referenced the Nov. 29 video and said it detailed who he wanted to kill and why he chose a 9MM.
"Among those steps is enlisting his own father to get him a 9MM gun because that particular weapon is more desirable to maximize the number of people killed," Collins said. "Nov. 30, 2021 is not an isolated incident. This is someone who wants to be remembered and has calculated how."
To that point, Collins said that Crumbley wants to be remembered with the same people he adored.
"He wants to be compared to the likes of Hitler or Dahmer or the Parkland school shooter - using them as inspiration for actions that he sets about taking," Collins said.
She stated that the shooting was not impulsive and that he anticipated what would happen after the shooting.
"He contemplated the pros and cons of going out in a blaze of glory, of being killed or committing suicide at the end of this all but neither of those he expressed would satisfy his desire to be remembered forever," Collins said.
After his arrest, Collins said he even asked for his fan mail and hate mail on Dec. 17, a little more than two weeks after the shooting.
"He knows that he's going to have people who admire him and people who hate him alike, and he wants that notoriety," Collins said.
Additionally, while behind bars, he's able to talk with other juveniles and Collins presented his own words for why she believes he should remain in the jail.
"'It's not so bad in here. I get a tv, I get good food, the deputies are nice,'" Collins quoted Crumbley as saying. "He's the one who's giving a first-hand account of his experience in jail."
In his emails with ‘fans’, she said he even told them when his next court date was and suggested they can watch him on TV.
"This is what he wants. he wants to be noticed and for people to relish in his behaviors," Collins said.
She said moving him to juvenile custody with little to no supervision should ‘scare all of us’.
"This is not a person you should put in a place of having contact with and potential to influence other juveniles, much less those juveniles our courts have already determined to be at-risk"," Collins said.
She concluded that keeping him in Oakland County Jail is the most secure facility and he's getting the same access to services and activities as he would in Children's Village.
Crumbley's attorney: mental health is a factor
Loftin also had a chance to offer closing arguments and said that they understand the seriousness of the charges but the court should still consider if the adult jail is the best place for the 15-year-old.
Arguing that Crumbley was not getting mental health support, she also referenced the text exchange with his friend.
"He texted his friend ‘I need help'. ‘I was thinking of calling 911 so I could go to the hospital, but then my parents would be really pissed’," she said. "He details seeing things, hearing things, hearing voices, and then they disappear. He discusses telling his parents again that he needs therapy, that he needs treatment, that he needs to talk to someone. This time he's going tell his parents about voices he is hearing. This is someone who was having a mental health crisis and no one did a thing."
Loftin also argued that Crumbley has no prior history or criminal charges and that his time at the jail has shown that he can follow instructions.
"When he was placed at the jail, as a precautionary measure, he was placed on constant watch. They wanted to establish a baseline for his behavior. We also heard that he was taken off of constant watch. If Mr. Crumbley was someone who did not follow directions, did not follow orders, I would assume that he would still be on constant watch," she said.
Loftin said there have been no issues of misbehavior while at the jail and that he is a very smart kid but that shouldn't be used against him in this decision.
"We have been able to visit him, I think between the three of us, probably close to 20 times. Has he adjusted to life in the jail? He has. Do I think that that's the best place for him? I absolutely do not," Loftin said.
Lastly, she addressed the emails from alleged fans and says they are from strangers who have reached out on their own.
"These are individuals, mostly women, who have taken it upon themselves to message him and give him well wishes and message him extremely frequently,"
If Crumbley were at Children's Village, she said they could control the communication with the outside world.
Judge Kwame Rowe is expected to give his final decision, which must be issued in writing, by the beginning of next week. He asked for supplemental briefs from the prosecution and defense by Friday.