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The parents of the Michigan school shooting suspect make a court appearance

James Crumbley, far right, and Jennifer Crumbley, far left, sit with their attorneys in district court in Rochester Hills, Mich., on Tuesday for a probable cause conference in the case of the Oxford High School mass shooting.
Bill Pugliano
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James Crumbley, far right, and Jennifer Crumbley, far left, sit with their attorneys in district court in Rochester Hills, Mich., on Tuesday for a probable cause conference in the case of the Oxford High School mass shooting.

Updated December 14, 2021 at 4:00 PM ET

The parents of Ethan Crumbley, the Michigan high school student charged with murdering four of his fellow students, made a brief appearance in court Tuesday related to charges they face in connection with the tragedy.

James Crumbley and Jennifer Crumbley have pleaded not guilty to four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. They each face a maximum prison sentence of 60 years and maximum fines of $30,000 if convicted on all four counts. They appeared before a judge in prison uniforms and chains.

The hearing Tuesday had been scheduled to determine whether prosecutors have probable cause to proceed with criminal proceedings.

But Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald asked the judge to delay the hearing. McDonald said the case has generated so much evidence that prosecutors have not had sufficient time to work through it all and share it with defense lawyers representing the Crumbleys.

"The volume of discovery in this case is staggering," McDonald said, adding it was unlike any case her office had ever handled. The evidence, which includes witness testimony, surveillance videos and digital evidence from the suspects' electronic devices, will remain under protective order, meaning it will not be released to the public.

The probable cause hearing will be rescheduled for the new year. A bond hearing for the pair — who are currently being held on $500,000 bond apiece — was scheduled for Jan. 7, 2022.

Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, Madisyn Baldwin and Justin Shilling, all between the ages of 14 and 17, were killed in the Nov. 30 shooting that devastated the community of Oxford Township. Six other students and one teacher were injured.

Prosecutors say James Crumbley purchased the 9mm Sig Sauer handgun used in the shooting days before the massacre as a Christmas gift for their son.

Since their arraignment, the elder Crumbleys have been held at the same Oakland County jail as their son. On Monday, a judge refused the younger Crumbley's request to be transferred to a juvenile facility.

It is highly unusual for parents to be charged in connection with a shooting done by their child, especially with a charge as serious as manslaughter. But prosecutors say the Crumbleys contributed to their son's actions.

It is possible that additional charges could be filed against the Crumbleys.

Attorneys have claimed "incomplete facts"

Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald leaves after addressing the media in her office, Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in Pontiac, Mich.
Carlos Osorio / AP
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AP
Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald has said there is a "mountain of digital evidence" in the case.

Rather than having their own attorney each, James Crumbley and Jennifer Crumbley are being jointly represented by one pair of attorneys, Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman, who work for the same firm. That arrangement could pose conflict of interest issues, the judge advised.

Smith previously represented Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State University sports doctor now serving a lengthy prison sentence for abusing members of the U.S. women's national gymnastics team.

Smith and Lehman did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Previously, the two told NPR in a statement that prosecutors have altered facts to fit a desired narrative of the Crumbleys.

"The prosecution has very much cherry-picked and slanted specific facts to further their narrative to do that," the two lawyers said in a statement. "We intend to fight this case in the courtroom and not in the court of public opinion. We know that in the end the entire story and truth will prevail."

According to McDonald, on the day of the shooting, a teacher noticed a disturbing drawing by Ethan Crumbley. It depicted "a semiautomatic handgun pointing at the words 'the thoughts won't stop help me'" and a drawing of a bullet with "blood everywhere" written above it, McDonald previously said.

The school called the parents in for a conference with guidance counselors. Afterward, the Crumbleys refused to take their son home, and school officials allowed him to return to class.

McDonald told CNN that during the meeting, the parents didn't attempt to locate the gun or to see if their son had it in his possession.

McDonald later told CNN's Anderson Cooper: "They didn't even disclose it at that moment or check to see if their son had that weapon, or go right home and look to see where the weapon was. ... We know that because right after the public being notified about an active shooter, Dad drives to his house, and it was for one reason: to look for that weapon. And finds it missing, and then makes a 911 call and says this gun is missing, and I think my son is the shooter."

Authorities did not provide a motive, but McDonald has said there was a "mountain of digital evidence" against Ethan Crumbley, suggesting that the massacre was planned.

"This was not just an impulsive act," she said.

Assistant prosecutor Marc Keast said the suspect "deliberately brought the handgun that day with the intent to murder as many students as he could."

All three defendants are scheduled to appear in court again in the coming weeks. Ethan Crumbley is scheduled to appear Dec. 20 for a preliminary examination hearing. After his parents return to court in January, their preliminary examination is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 8.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: December 13, 2021 at 11:00 PM CST
An earlier version of this story misstated the date of the shooting at Oxford High School. The attack took place on Nov. 30, not Dec. 1.