ROCHESTER, Mich. - James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of alleged Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, were in court on Tuesday, Feb. 8, for a preliminary exam as an idea of what evidence the prosecution will use in the case is being reviewed.
For the first time in a month, James and Jennifer are both in court where evidence and testimony from witnesses will be given during the preliminary exam. The parents of Ethan Crumbley were both charged shortly after the shooting at Oxford High School that killed four students and injured several others.
The hearing, originally set to start at 8;30 a.m., did not start until closer to 9:15. It started with the defense team asking for an adjournment in the preliminary hearing, citing a lack of sufficient time to review the evidence the prosecutor plans to review.
However, the judge rejected the request and said the hearing would take place on Tuesday.
From there, the prosecution requested the court order them to stop communicating. The Crumbleys attorneys said they were not intentionally sending displays of affection to hurt families of the victims and "didn't even know they were being broadcast". The defense agreed that the two would cease communication in court.
Last week, prosecutor Karen McDonald's office released a statement calling their actions "a serious distraction" and "traumatic for the family members" of the victims involved in the shooting.
James and Jennifer were both in restraints and their attorneys asked for permission for both James and Jennifer to have a hand free to communicate with their attorneys via notes. However, a deputy from the Oakland County Jail objected to this request, citing their maximum security status.
With that out of the way, the prosecution called its first witness, Kira Pennock, a horse farm owner in Metamora, Michigan, south of Lapeer in Oakland County.
Pennock said she first met Jennifer Crumbley through a mutual friend who housed the Crumbley's first horse. She testified that Jennifer purchased another one and told her she was drinking when she bought the horse for $5,000 in 2021.
She testified how the family kept the horses at the farm but also how she believed there were marital problems between the couple before later turning to Ethan.
FULL TESTIMONY: Read Pennock's testimony in the preliminary hearing
Pennock said that she didn't recall Jennifer talking positively, if at all, about Ethan and called her son 'weird'. She said Jennifer said he only had one friend and spent a lot of time online and playing games. She also said Jennifer did not consider him 'normal'.
"When she would talk about him it was ‘oh, he doesn’t do normal kid things'," Pennock said.
Jennifer was supposed to be at the facility around 4:30 on Nov. 30 for a training session but Pennock learned of the morning meeting at Oxford High School. The two women talked via Facebook Messenger and Pennock said testified she didn't know what the meeting was about. She asked Jennifer if she still wanted to train later that day.
Jennifer said everything was okay but Ethan was having a hard time. She then shared a picture of what Ethan had drawn at school and confirmed she was planning to be there later in the day.
Around 2:30 p.m., Jennifer said she would not make it that day for their planned training session. This was an hour after the shooting at Oxford High School and Jennifer asked her to work one of their horses that day. Pennock asked about the shooting and asked if Ethan was okay. Jennifer did not respond to that message but sent one at 4:42 p.m. on Nov. 30, Jennifer messaged she ‘needed to sell her horses stat’.
Pennock told the defense attorneys she planned to take care of the horses. After it became clear that Ethan was the alleged shooter, Pennock confirmed she texted Jennifer that she didn't think what had happened was her fault. "It sounds like Ethan was a troubled kid," read one of the texts.
"I wish we had warnings. They made a terrible decision. He's a good kid," Jennifer replied in text messages.
With both sides finished questioning Pennock, she was dismissed, and the next witness was called.
Andrew Smith is the COO of the real estate company that Jennifer worked for. He testified that Crumbley worked there for about five years prior to Nov. 30, 2021.
Smith said that she was aware that Jennifer had to attend a meeting with school counselors that morning because she texted him a photo of Ethan's drawings. It was the first time that Smith could recall that Jennifer missed work to go to the school. After meeting with school counselors that morning, the Crumbleys did not remove Ethan from school even after the drawings were revealed.
Smith said Jennifer was invited to an office meeting that was not required and, had she opted to stay with her son instead of coming back into the office, he said Jennifer would not have been disciplined. She worked in the office that day.
When Smith asked how things were, she said she needed to get her son a counselor. Smith said she also told him that a family pet and grandparent had died, and she felt like a failure.
Around 1 p.m., Smith said he learned there was a shooting at the school when he heard Jennifer screaming in her office.
"I think I was on a call or a Zoom and I walked out of my office to see what was going on. I saw Mrs. Crumbley say there was an active shooter at her child's school, and she had to go," Smith said.
About 20 minutes later, he received a message from Jennifer:
"The gun is gone and so are the bullets," the message read.
Smith said he told her was praying for her and was unaware there were guns or ammunition in the family's home.
Smith then read through the next string of messages from Jennifer:
"OMG Andy, he's going to kill himself. He must be the shooter. I need a lawyer. Ethan did it." Smith read.
At 3:39 p.m. on Nov. 30, Jennifer sent another message asking Smith not to judge her "what my son did".
Smith said he was caught off guard by this message.
"I was surprised by that text. I was surprised she was worried about her job at that time. I thought she'd be more worried about what was going on at that time," Smith said.
HR Director Kathy Poliquin testified next. She said Jennifer didn't talk much about her son and that if anyone had to tend to a family issue, it was never a problem with the company.
On Nov. 30, Poliquin said she didn't talk to Jennifer but said she was hysterical and trying to get to the school.
When Smith came into the office and showed an image of the math drawings to Poliquin, she said it was the first she had learned of anything about the shooting.
"When I looked at it, I thought 'that boy needs help.'" she said.
Similar to Smith, Poliquin expressed surprise that Jennifer was asking about her job and even returning to work the same week as the shooting.
In response, Poliquin said she needs to "tend to your family, and don't worry about work. Just tend to your family. Let's talk about it next week." She then inquired about paystubs, 401K, and more. Poliquin testified she was surprised these were the things that Jennifer was concerned about in the wake of the shooting.
The third employee from Jennifer's place of work to testify was Amanda Holland, who worked as an administrative assistant to Smith and had a working relationship with her. Their conversations would revolve around personal lives, her work with her horses, and her relationship with James, she testified.
That included discussions about a mutual agreement for the two to temporarily separate and see other people. During one conversation, Jennifer mentioned she was seeing another man.
She confirmed that she overheard that Jennifer received a call on Nov. 29 from the school, but could not make out the details.
In her first conversation with Jennifer on Nov. 30, she was aware that she had taken a call about her son. Jennifer then called James about meeting at the school to discuss concerns about Ethan with a counselor.
When she got back to work from the school meeting, Holland testified that Jennifer showed her an image of the drawing that Ethan had made. It was "disturbing" and Holland said "I thought that it was scary that he would draw that." Holland characterized Jennifer's demeanor as a little sarcastic and concerned after she told her she felt like a failure.
After that conversation, Holland testified that Jennifer received a call from James about an alert about an active shooter. "She started to panic in her office. Then we all did. That's whens he left and ran out quickly."
During questions from the defense, Holland confirmed she had reached out to Jennifer to be supportive.
The final witness to testify on Tuesday was Edward Wagrowski from the Oakland County Sheriff's Office.
Wagrowski testified how data - including text messages, social media accounts, and phone calls - are all recovered. He walked through several months worth of texts between the Crumbleys, including the day before the shooting when Ethan was caught searching for bullets on his phone in school.
The prosecution and defense argued back and forth regarding which information was presented to the defense prior to Wagrowski took the stand. The defense said that they were not provided with all of the documents, while the prosecution argued they had the documents.
Around 4:30, the case was ordered to be continued on Feb. 24th at 8:30 a.m.
What is a preliminary exam?
A preliminary exam is when a judge will hear evidence presented by the prosecution. This includes documents, physical evidence, and witness testimony.
The prosecution presents the evidence but, according to FOX 2's Charlie Langton, this is actually a hearing that's used by the defense to find out what evidence the prosecution has and how well the witnesses will testify at trial, assuming it goes to trial.
The judge then decides what evidence will be allowed and if the suspects are bound over for trial.
Most cases are bound over and Langton said he fully expects James and Jennifer to be sent to trial.
James and Jennifer Crumbley charged
Ethan's parents were both charged two days later, on Friday Dec. 3, with 4 counts of involuntary manslaughter each.
"The parents were the only individuals in the position to know the access to weapons," McDonald said at the time. The gun "seems to have been just freely available to that individual."
The Crumbleys were expected to turn themselves in on the charges and their attorneys said that day that they were returning to area after a Be On the Lookout (BOLO) was issued.
"The Crumbleys left town on the night of the tragic shooting for their own safety. They are returning to the area to be arraigned. They are not fleeing from law enforcement despite recent comments in media reports," the attorneys said in a statement.
What happened after the Oxford High School shooting?
During the most recent court hearing, the Crumbley parents were accused of draining their son's bank account after the shooting, among other actions.
"On Nov. 30, just hours after their son murdered children in a school, they started making plans." McDonald said.
McDonald said they stated making plans to sell horses and then bought four cell phones.
The day of the shooting, she said they also drained Ethan's bank account of $3,000, leaving only $0.99.
The next day, Dec. 1, they checked into a different hotel where more contacts were made discussing the sale of their horses and withdrew $2,000 from their bank and then checked out of the hotel they were staying in, leaving one of their cars behind but parked so that the license plate could not be easily seen.
That's the day McDonald said they drove to the art studio in Detroit and never left except to smoke and to move the car so that the plate was not easily visible. While in the building, they texted with the owner that they needed provisions including socks and bedding items.
Meanwhile, their attorneys said that they believed the Crumbleys wouldn't have paid them if they had planned to run.
While inside the building, the doors were locked, even as police arrived and announced that they were there. They were found crouched behind a locked down where police took them into custody on Dec. 4.
When they were arrested, McDonald said they had Jennifer's social security card, more than a dozen credit and gift cards, cell phones, and $6,600 in cash.
"Your honor, these are not the actions of individuals who wanted to turn themselves in. They had knowledge of the pending charges based on their text messages and what did they do? They didn't go across the street,. There was a police station across the street from their hotel. There was nothing preventing them from staying right there," McDonald said.