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What's next for Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of the Michigan school shooter?

The mother of a Michigan school shooter is the first parent in the U.S. to be found criminally responsible for a mass school attack conducted by their child, even though she didn't pull the trigger

Ed White
Wednesday 07 February 2024 21:11 GMT

A conviction in the unprecedented trial of a Michigan school shooter’s mother will stand as a milestone to law enforcers across the U.S. as well as a stark reminder to parents with guns in their home.

But experts who followed Jennifer Crumbley's involuntary manslaughter case note that events related to the Oxford High School attack were extraordinary and might not match other cases where parental blame could be weighed.

“I'm not a big believer that any one conviction creates some sort of landslide effect,” said Detroit-area lawyer Margaret Raben, the former leader of a statewide association of defense attorneys.

“Prosecutors bring charges they think they can prove,” she said. “The facts are horrible. I don't know Jennifer Crumbley. But it's fair to say a lot of people were alarmed at the way she was parenting this kid — or not parenting.”

WHAT HAPPENED?

The parents of Ethan Crumbley, were summoned to his school on Nov. 30, 2021, to discuss the 15-year-old's violent drawing on a math assignment with desperate phrases: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. My life is useless.”

The school's concern was that he might be suicidal, not that he was a threat to others. His parents declined to take him home and instead said they would look at a list of mental health services.

A few hours later, Ethan Crumbley pulled a Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun from his backpack and began firing. No one had checked the bag. He shot 11 people, killing four students.

The shooter, now 17, pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence.

PARENTS PURSUED

A jury in Oakland County, Michigan, convicted Jennifer Crumbley, 45, of involuntary manslaughter Tuesday. Prosecutors argued that she was grossly negligent in not securing the gun and had a legal duty to prevent her son from harming others, even if she didn't know his specific plan.

James Crumbley took him to a gun shop four days before the attack and bought the Sig Sauer, which the teen called his “beauty.” Jennifer Crumbley took him to a gun range that same weekend, buying 100 rounds of ammunition.

Those facts were not shared with school officials during the meeting on the day of the shooting, according to trial testimony. Jennifer Crumbley told jurors it was “irrelevant.” She said she saw no signs of mental distress and pinned responsibility for gun storage on her husband.

The jury forewoman said Jennifer Crumbley wasn’t a "super reliable witness." She told NBC's “Today" show that some jurors were influenced by Ethan Crumbley's journal, in which he lamented his parent's lack of interest in his mental health.

REACTION TO THE VERDICT

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, whose office investigated the parents, said the jury “plowed new ground with this verdict.”

Everytown for Gun Safety, a national advocacy group that works on policies to reduce gun violence, said the verdict shows the Oxford shooting could have been prevented, especially with proper gun storage.

“The charges in this case were remarkable. The number of signs missed and decisions made were just too hard to ignore," Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy, said Wednesday.

Lawyers in the case have declined to comment, citing a gag order imposed by Judge Cheryl Matthews.

In Illinois, in a different case of parental responsibility, Robert Crimo Jr. last year pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for sponsoring his 19-year-old son’s gun license. He was accused of knowing about Robert Crimo III’s suicidal thoughts and threats against others. The son is charged with killing seven people at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park in 2022.

THE SENTENCE

The maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison. Matthews' job on April 9 will be to set the minimum term to be served before Jennifer Crumbley is eligible for parole.

That minimum could be as high as 10 years, said Raben, adding that the sentences on four convictions would likely be served at the same time and not stacked.

As she considers a sentence, the judge undoubtedly will think about Jennifer Crumbley's testimony in which she expressed no regrets about how she dealt with her son and the school on the day of the shooting. “We did lose a lot,” she said, summing up the tragedy.

“The message that sent to parents, the victims, the jurors was incredible,” said Richard Convertino, a former federal prosecutor who watched the seven-day trial. “I think it was misstep after misstep by the defense.”

He noted that defense attorney Shannon Smith began her opening statement to jurors with an odd reference to a Taylor Swift song about “Band-Aids” and “bullet holes.” Smith described Crumbley as a “hypervigilant” mom despite evidence presented at trial to the contrary.

“It was a losing proposition from the start and went down from there,” Convertino said.

FATHER'S TRIAL

James Crumbley, 47, faces his own involuntary manslaughter trial on March 5.

He, too, will be confronted with evidence that he didn't do enough to help his son before the shooting. Jurors will see images of him and Ethan buying the gun.

Prosecutors also have a crucial piece of evidence: A call to 911 that implies he quickly figured his son could be the shooter at Oxford High.

“I raced home just to, like, find out, and I think my son took the gun. I don’t know if it’s him. I don’t know what’s going on. I am really freaking out. My son’s name is Ethan Crumbley,” he said on that call.

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Follow Ed White on X at https://twitter.com/edwritez

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