OXFORD, Mich. – A prosecutor challenged the judge’s decision Monday in court after she granted a request by the parents of the suspected Oxford High School shooter to restrict pretrial publicity.
After she denied a motion by James and Jennifer Crumbley to change the location of their trial, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl A. Matthews granted their request to restrict pretrial publicity.
From this point forward, any statements made by the defense or prosecution about the case must be made in court, according to the judge.
“Considering that a fair and impartial jury is the goal, why is it necessary for either the plaintiff or the defendant to make public statements about the case, other than in open court or in court filings?” Matthews said.
The Crumbleys are each facing four counts of manslaughter. Their son is accused of firing shots inside Oxford High School during school hours, killing four people and injuring several others.
James and Jennifer Crumbley filed a motion requesting their trial be moved to another location. They said they don’t believe they will receive a fair trial in Oakland County. That was the first motion read by Matthews on Monday (June 27), and it was shot down.
The Crumbleys’ next motion was based on “complaints about statements and alleged misstatements by the prosecution in press conferences and releases.”
“Press conferences and internet posts by the prosecution have contributed to the attention given to this matter, however, post-charge, pre-arrest contact by the defendants, and statements by the defense attorneys have also contributed to the intense interest by the press,” Matthews said.
She said the overriding duty of the prosecution, the defense, and the court is to make sure that the integrity of the proceedings is maintained.
“The court has no intention of censuring the media,” Matthews said. “The prosecution has agreed with defendants that all parties end contact with the media and focus on resolving this case. To that end, the court grants defendants’ motion to restrict pretrial publicity.
“Going forward, the defense is obviously able to confer with their clients, and the prosecution is permitted to confer with potential witnesses, the victim, and notify them about the progression of the case. However, any and all statements made about this case by the prosecution and its agents, and the defendants and their agents, will be made solely to the court -- either on the record or in chambers with all parties present.”
Prosecutor challenges decision
A prosecutor stepped forward and asked to address the court after Matthews’ decision. She said he could do so, briefly.
You can watch the full exchange in the video posted at the top of this page.
“There’s a reason why I think that order doesn’t serve the public interest, and I want to give the court one example -- just one concrete example,” he said. “Judge, in December, I was on vacation with my family and someone posted on Facebook -- postings that (said), ‘Exclusive: Ethan Crumbley has been deemed incompetent to stand trial for the murder of four students.’”
“I’m aware of that,” Matthews said. “That was in the prosecutors’ brief. I’ve considered that.”
“Judge, that posting would have gone un-responded to for who knows how long, and victims’ families saw that, and they believed that their case had been changed or compromised,” the prosecutor said. “In an ordinary case, the prosecutor could call their victim and say, ‘Ignore it. It’s not true.’ We don’t have that ability without the media.”
“You have a victims’ unit, right, who is in direct contact, right?” Matthews asked.
“Yes,” the prosecutor said.
“That is the purpose of the victims’ crime unit and the prosecutor’s office,” Matthews said. “There are so many things on the internet -- so many things. I can’t allow that. I can’t allow that because then what’s going to happen is then I am going to change venue. If there’s internet posts and things in the media, then the prosecutor is going to be with me driving to who knows where.”
“Judge, I do understand that, but who other than the prosecution could have corrected that statement?” the prosecutor asked.
“It’s not your job to correct the statement,” Matthews said. “It’s your job to give the defense a fair trial, and that’s my job, too, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
“I understand, but the public is misled, and we can’t do a phone tree with a thousand victims, and so we’re having people who are now experiencing -- so what we did in that case, I called one media outlet and said, ‘That’s 100% false.’ They published it and it ended the rumor,” the prosecutor said. “It actually got it taken down, and what I want to make sure is clear is the court’s telling me I can’t do that now? If I see a false posting, I can’t say, ‘That’s false?’”
“Correct, you cannot do that,” Matthews said. “I’m sure that there’s going to be lots of disagreement with what I do today, and either side can go to the Court of Appeals. I’m not all-knowing. I’m just a Circuit Court judge trying to do her best, read the rules of evidence. If anyone doesn’t agree with what I do, I’m sure you can go to the Court of Appeals. I’m trying to do my best, but the overriding need here is to give a fair trial to both sides and to frankly end the suffering, end some of the suffering, and the way to end some of the suffering on both sides is to try this case in the most expeditious way possible. So that’s what I want to do.”
“I understand, Your Honor. Thank you,” the prosecutor said.
“I understand why you feel that way, but this is the ruling of the court,” Matthews said.
“I understand, Your Honor. Thank you,” the prosecutor repeated.