OXFORD, Mich. – A judge denied a request by the parents of the suspected Oxford High School shooter to move their trial out of Oakland County, where they claim they won’t get a fair chance to plead their case.
James and Jennifer Crumbley, who are each facing four counts of manslaughter, filed a motion requesting their trial be moved to another location. They said they don’t believe they will receive a fair trial in the same county where their son is accused of opening fire in the hallways of a high school, killing four people and injuring several others.
“The very widespread number of people impacted by the tragic school shooting throughout Oakland County make this case a unique set of circumstance,” their motion reads.
The defense also accuses Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald of tainting the potential jury by publicly declaring false information about the case.
On Monday, the Crumbleys returned to the courtroom in front of Oakland County Judge Cheryl A. Matthews.
“Pretrial publicity alone is not sufficient (to warrant moving a trial),” Matthews read. “To establish actual prejudice (against a defendant), a defendant must show that the extensive, highly inflammatory pretrial publicity saturated the community to such an extent that the entire pool was tainted or that community bias can be implied from a high percentage of the venire who admit to disqualifying prejudice.”
Matthews said in order to justify moving the trial, the Crumbleys must prove that there has been unfair coverage of their case to the extent that the whole community is exposed to incorrect facts.
“As a general rule, if a juror is able to set aside preexisting knowledge and opinions about a case, that is sufficient to support denial of a motion to change venue,” Matthews read.
Here are some of the factors taken into account when deciding whether a change of venue is necessary, according to Matthews:
- Size and characteristics of the community.
- The extent to which the government is responsible for generating the publicity.
- The extent to which the publicity focuses on the crime, versus the defendant.
- Whether the publicity is factual, rather than inflammatory.
- Other factors reflecting on the public’s likely affect on the impartiality of potential jurors.
“A crime that occurred in a large, diverse, metropolitan community, and publicity that is largely factual, even if voluminous, weighs against a finding of presumed prejudice,” Matthews read.
She said when change of venue motions are granted, they generally involve some sort of confession in small communities.
“The level of pretrial publicity, and the number of prospective jurors that might have been directly affected by the Oxford shooting alone is not enough to warrant a change of venue before conducting voir dire,” Matthews said. “Oakland County is not a small community and is sufficiently diverse to weigh against a finding of presumed prejudice. It’s well-established that pretrial publicity alone does not warrant a change of venue.
“Further, both Michigan and federal courts have articulated a preference for conducting voir dire before deciding a motion to change venue. Courts have denied motions to change venue in similarly, and arguably even higher-profile cases, including the mass shooting or bombing of multiple victims, including cases involving the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Boston Marathon bombing, and the mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.
“Heightened publicity associated with egregious crimes alone does not require a change of venue, which is an extraordinary remedy reserved for circumstances where adverse publicity is so pervasive and inflammatory that jurors cannot be believed when they assert they (can) be impartial.
“Therefore the motion for change of venue, or venire, is denied.”