‘I did not sob!’: Defense attorney chided by prosecutor for showing emotion in Crumbley trial


Prosecutors looking to hold Jennifer Crumbley responsible for her son’s violent 2021 attack on his fellow high school students want the defendant — and her attorney — to keep their emotions in check, despite the difficult subject matter.

Jennifer Crumbley is facing manslaughter charges in connection with the shooting deaths of four students at Oxford High School in Michigan. Her son Ethan Crumbley, now 17, was 15 years old when he shot and killed his fellow students — Tate Myre, 16 Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Justin Shilling, 17 — in November 2021 with a gun he had received as a gift from his parents. A subsequent investigation revealed that he had been caught drawing violent images while in class before the attack.

Hours before the shooting, Jennifer and James Crumbley — who is also charged with manslaughter — had been called to the school after a teacher discovered their son’s disturbing drawings in a math workbook. They eventually left without their son, after meeting with both him and school officials.

Following the shooting, investigators issued arrest warrants for the Crumbleys. The couple appeared to have attempted to evade apprehension by the police but were eventually found hiding in a building near downtown Detroit, around 30 minutes away from Oakland.

On Thursday, a video showing the aftermath of the attack was shown to jurors, although it was not streamed to the public. Immediately afterward, both Crumbley and her lawyer, Shannon Smith, could be heard sniffling and were seen wiping their eyes.

“Is there any way we could have, like, a minute?” a shaky Smith asked Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews after telling the witness whose testimony preceded the video, Oxford assistant principal Kristy Gibson-Marshall, that she had no questions. “I’m sorry, I’m, like, so sorry, can we just have a minute, like a break? Can we have a 10-minute break please?”

Matthews agreed and dismissed the jury.

Before the break could be had, however, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald reminded Matthews of a prior directive the judge had issued the prosecutors.

“Your Honor, this court, upon the defense’s request, instructed prosecutors not to show emotion,” McDonald said. “You instructed the prosecutors to tell our witnesses not to show emotion.”

“I don’t think that’s exactly what I said,” the judge interjected.

“I understand the ruling, Your Honor, I do,” McDonald insisted. “You’re concerned about influencing the jury. I take no issue with it. But it’s a difficult thing. It’s difficult, and we’re doing it.”

McDonald noted that both the defendant and her lawyer were clearly emotional after watching the video, and indeed, courtroom cameras showed that Smith was wiping her eyes and blowing her nose with a tissue after the video was done playing.

Left: Oakland County (Mich.) prosecutor Karen McDonald reminds Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews of her instruction that people limit their shows of emotion in the courtroom. Right: Defense attorney Shannon Smith sits by her client, Jennifer Crumbley, whose son, Ethan Crumbley, opened fire on his classmates at Oxford High School in 2021, killing four teens (screengrabs via Law&Crime).

“To have not just the defendant, her lawyer sit there sobbing –”

“I did not sob!” Smith interjected.

“I just want to finish, Your Honor,” McDonald said. “I just want to finish. If that’s the instruction, we’re trying really hard to respect the court’s instruction because I understand the reason for it.”

“I didn’t tell people not to show emotion,” the judge clarified. “Some of that is involuntary.”

“This is a very emotional situation for everyone here,” she added. “If someone was audibly sobbing in the audience, I would hope that they would exit and as you said … I didn’t tell anybody not to show emotion. I guess some of it is involuntary, so I guess what I’m asking is what you’re asking of me.”

“I think it just, it should apply to both sides,” McDonald said.

Smith then took the opportunity to defend herself.

“Your Honor, first of all, I was not sobbing,” she said. “This is horrific! This is horrific. It’s horrific. That’s why we asked the court not to play it … she’s watched it 100 times with these witnesses. It’s horrific.”

“You’ve had this video for over two years,” the judge reminded Smith.

Smith insisted that she didn’t have the video and that she had to go to the prosecutor’s office to watch it.

“You’ve seen it,” the judge insisted. Smith replied that she hadn’t seen it because it was “not relevant” to Jennifer Crumbley’s case.

“We’re doing our best,” Smith continued. “We were not sobbing or making a scene. All my eye makeup is still on, I checked my camera.”

Smith then asked for a 10-minute break, which Matthews granted — but not before offering her own take on the situation.

“Everyone here is human,” the judge said. “I understand that. I’m striving really hard to give both sides a fair trial.”

The judge asked people to “at least try to check themselves” or leave the courtroom “if it’s that excruciating, which I know it is.”

“I’m not a robot,” the judge said. “I’m trying to keep myself from sobbing. I’ll do it at 6:00 tonight.”

Smith reminded Matthews that neither she nor her client “have the option to leave the courtroom,” but promised the judge that they were “trying our best.”

Crumbley was sentenced in December to life behind bars, with no chance of parole.

James Crumbley’s trial will take place following Jennifer Crumbley’s proceedings.

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