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Do different lawyers for Oxford High suspect, parents mean unequal representation?

Mike Martindale and Beth LeBlanc, The Detroit News on

Published in News & Features

PONTIAC, Mich. — The 15-year-old student charged in the Oxford High shootings has a court-appointed attorney as his parents have hired two private lawyers, a situation that may look bad but the teenager remains likely to get the best possible defense, experts said.

Ethan Crumbley faces murder, terrorism and other charges for the shootings in which four students were killed and six others and a teacher were wounded that could result in up to life in prison if he is convicted. Parents James and Jennifer Crumbley are charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the shootings.

"I have talked with him but haven't even received any discovery in the case yet," said Paulette Michelle Loftin, who was appointed by court officials on the request by her young client because he could not afford his own attorney.

"I really don't have anything to say at this time."

A probable cause hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 13 before Rochester Hills District Judge Nancy Carniak. He is held in the Oakland County Jail without bond because of the seriousness of the charges.

James and Jennifer Crumbley, are both facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths because they purchased the firearm that was used as a Christmas present for their son and did not have it safely stored in their home. They were arrested early Saturday morning when found hiding in a friend's Detroit studio after not showing up as arranged by their attorneys.


The Crumbleys are represented by Mariell Lehman and Shannon Smith. Smith has represented convicted former Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar, who is essentially serving a life sentence in prison for sexual assault. Smith also has defended Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of Northville, whose female genital mutilation charges were dismissed by federal judges, including one who said federal officials engaged in "vindictive or retaliatory prosecution."

The Crumbleys are jailed in lieu of $500,000 cash surety bond each pending a Dec. 14 probable cause hearing before Rochester Hills District Judge Julie Nicholson.

Although the son and parents have different types of legal representation, legal experts said the son is still likely to receive proper representation from a veteran attorney.

"The public perception on this might not be very good," said Mitchell Ribitwer, a veteran Metro Detroit defense attorney who has handled dozens of high-profile cases during his career. "It might look like they (parents) are more interested in saving their own skins rather than providing their son with an attorney of choice.


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