Michigan school shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley has been appointed an attorney by the court after his parents hired their own high-profile legal team but not a lawyer to represent their son on his murder and terrorism charges.
Paulette Michel Loftin, a little known defence attorney based out of Rochester, Detroit, was appointed by court officials on Thursday to represent the 15-year-old alleged mass shooter.
Ms Loftin told the Detroit Free Press she had been appointed at the request of the teenager because he could not afford to hire his own attorney.
Defendants are entitled to a court-appointed attorney, funded by the taxpayer, when they can prove they do not have the funds to pay for their defence themselves.
But, while the suspect’s parents Jennifer and James Crumbley appeared to choose not to foot their son’s legal bill, they took the step to hire two high-powered attorneys to represent themselves before they purportedly went on the run last week.
The Crumbleys had retained Shannon Smith and Mariell Lehman even before prosecutors charged them each with four charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection to last week’s deadly shooting.
Ms Smith has represented a number of high-profile clients in recent years including disgraced former USA Gymnastics team doctor and convicted sex offender Larry Nassar, who was accused of using his position of power to sexually abuse more than 250 victims over two decades.
He was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child porn charges and an additional 40 to 175 years in Michigan State prison for child sexual assault.
Ms Smith has also represented Jumana Nagarwala, who was charged with performing female genital mutilation in a landmark trial that was thrown out by a judge in September.
The Crumbleys’ decision not to pay for their son’s defence comes suggests they may be trying to distance themselves from any culpability for his alleged actions.
Criminal defence attorney Bill Swor told Detroit Free Press that the Crumbleys most likely can’t afford to pay for their son’s expensive murder trial, particularly given that they too are facing up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
“In some ways, the parents have got a harder case than the kid,” he said.
“They’re adults and he’s a child, and the father bought the gun. The mother made the (social media) postings, and public officials… made public statements that are very prejudicial.”
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald brought charges against the Crumbleys on Friday saying they had bought their son the firearm used in the shooting as a Christmas present and ignored multiple warning signs about the impending violence.
The couple then appeared to go on the run, failing to show for their arraignment that afternoon, sparking a huge manhunt.
Law enforcement officials tracked the couple down and arrested them early Saturday morning at an art studio in a warehouse in Detroit close to the Canadian border where they said the Crumbleys were “hiding”.
Their attorneys have repeatedly denied that the couple were trying to evade authorities, instead claiming it was a “matter of logistics” around when and how they would turn themselves in.
Authorities said charges may also be brought against artist Andrzej Sikora, who allegedly helped the couple hide inside his studio.
Mr Sikora has spoken out to claim he did not know the couple had been charged when he let them hide out in the commercial space.
Ethan has been charged as an adult with 24 charges including one count of terrorism and four counts of murder after he allegedly opened fire inside Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, on 30 November.
Four students – Tate Myre, 16, Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Justin Shilling, 17 – were all killed in the massacre while one teacher and six other students were wounded. Ethan was taken into custody at the scene.
Ms Loftin told the Free Press she had spoken with her client but would not be commenting on the charges until she receives information on the evidence in the case,
“There are thousands of pages of discovery that I will need to review so that we can make an informed decision about whether or not we wish to have the preliminary exam,” she said.
All three Crumbleys are now being held in Oakland County Jail where they are denied any contact with each other.