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The parents of the minor who killed 4 at his Michigan school with a gun given for Christmas go to trial

2024-01-21T17:56:37.519Z

Highlights: The parents of the minor who killed 4 at his Michigan school with a gun given for Christmas go to trial. Ethan Crumbley was 15 years old in November 2021 when he opened fire at his school in suburban Detroit with a semi-automatic pistol his parents had helped him buy as a Christmas gift. The shooting left four dead and several injured and shocked the close-knit community of Oxford, Michigan. He was charged as an adult and found guilty on two dozen charges, including murder and terrorism. Now, it is his parents who face trial.


Ethan Crumbley said at his sentencing that he alone is to blame for the 2021 school massacre and that his parents “didn't know” of his macabre plans. But the prosecutor's office thinks differently.


By Erik Ortiz and Selina Guevara -

NBC News

Ethan Crumbley was 15 years old in November 2021 when he opened fire at his school in suburban Detroit with a semi-automatic pistol his parents had helped him buy as a Christmas gift.

The shooting left four dead and several injured and shocked the close-knit community of Oxford, Michigan.

Last month, Crumbley was sentenced to

life in prison

without parole.

He was charged as an adult and found guilty on two dozen charges, including murder and terrorism.

Now, it is his parents who face trial.

In a rare attempt to hold the parents of a school shooter criminally responsible, James Crumbley, 47, and his wife, Jennifer, 45, each face four counts of involuntary manslaughter

and will be tried separately

, with a trial which will begin Tuesday with jury selection in Oakland County.

But key details remain unclear, including whether their trials will be held simultaneously or one after the other and, in the latter case, who would be tried first.

A court administrator said these logistical decisions were ongoing.

Defendants requesting separate trials for the same crime are not uncommon and can be part of a judicial strategy, said Jeffrey Swartz, a former county judge in Florida and a professor at Cooley College of Law in Michigan and Florida.

Separate lawsuits that can pit one parent against the other

“The Crumbleys are not going to deny that their son is guilty

,” Swartz said.

"I think each parent is going to point the finger at the other about which parent knew about Ethan's problems and who he was responsible for hiding and keeping the gun safe."

Holding two trials at different times could also benefit the second trial, as it will give his defense attorney a chance to re-evaluate what happened in the first trial and what may or may not have been stipulated before the jury, Swartz added. .

These photos from the Oakland County Sheriff's Department show James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, the teenager who killed 4 students at Oxford High School.AP

A gag order imposed by the Oakland County Circuit Court judge in 2022 prohibits both county prosecutors and the Crumbleys' attorneys from speaking publicly.

The involuntary manslaughter charge depends on prosecutors convincing a jury that each of the parents played a role in the deaths and that they were the result of neglect, even though neither intended for the deaths.

If convicted, the Crumbleys face 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine on each count.

It is not unheard of for a parent to be held responsible for gun violence perpetrated by their child.

In December, a Virginia mother was sentenced to two years in prison for child neglect after her 6-year-old son took his firearm and shot the teacher in her class.

But holding parents responsible for a mass shooting is unusual, which puts additional emphasis on this trial, several observers said.

Purchasing the gun

The day after Thanksgiving in 2021, James Crumbley bought his son a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol, prosecutors said.

The teen posted on Instagram: “Just received my new beauty today,” including a smiley face emoji with heart eyes.

Three days later, an Oxford High School teacher mentioned she saw Ethan Crumbley, a sophomore, searching for ammunition online, and school officials called his mother.

However, prosecutors stipulated that she did not respond and instead sent a text message to her son: “I'm not mad at you.

You have to learn not to be discovered.”

That same night, Ethan Crumbley recorded a video about planning an attack at the school, authorities said.

The next day, a teacher said she found a note on her desk with a drawing of a gun and a person being shot, as well as messages that included:

“The thoughts don't stop.

Help me".

Ethan Crumbley was referred to a school counselor, to whom he explained that the drawing was made as part of a video game design, school officials said.

However, his parents were summoned to a meeting that same day;

The counselors who observed him would later say that they did not believe he would engage in any violent acts, based on his behavior.

School officials said the Crumbleys were told at the meeting that they were required to get counseling for their son within the next 48 hours or else the school would contact Child Protective Services.

The parents rejected the request to take their son home, according to the prosecution, and authorities allowed him to remain on the premises.

His backpack was not searched the day of the shooting

Ethan Crumbley would later tell a psychologist that he thought school officials

were going to open his backpack and find his gun, but when it was never searched

, he went ahead with his plans that day to commit a shooting.

Ethan would kill the students Madisyn Baldwin, 17;

Tate Myre, 16;

Hana St. Juliana, 14;

and Justin Shilling, 17.

James Crumbley called 911 when news of the shooting was reported, and said he believed the shooter could be his son.

Law enforcement, who surrounded the school, detained Ethan Crumbley.

Days later, during a news conference, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald suggested that the Crumbleys had had a duty to inform the school about his gun when they were notified about the drawing he had made.

“The idea that a parent could read those words and also know that their child had access to a deadly weapon, which they themselves gave him, is inconceivable,” McDonald said.

“And I think he is a criminal.”

A complex family environment

The case took a dramatic turn when the U.S. Marshals Service posted wanted posters and offered rewards of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of James and Jennifer Crumbley, whom they could not find after Involuntary manslaughter charges will be announced.

Their lawyers denied they had fled and said they only left home because they felt unsafe.

Before sentencing in the case last year, Ethan Crumbley's family life became the center of court debates over whether or not he was mentally ill and deserved a life sentence, given his young age.

A psychologist, Colin King, declared that the teenager

was like a “wild child”

, who grew up in a home where his parents argued, neglected and did not support him.

The trial against the parents will likely focus on the warning signs and their decisions on the day of the shooting, as prosecutors will want to show that James and Jennifer Crumbley could have done more to intervene when they were summoned to school.

The defense, for its part, could blame school officials, trying to establish that they may have searched Ethan Crumbley's backpack or locker, said Michael Kelly, a Michigan attorney who has represented students in school disciplinary cases.

“The big question is whose duty and job it was to do something,” Kelly said.

A timeline of the shooting

  • November 30, 2021: Student Ethan Crumbley, 15, opens fire, killing four classmates and injuring seven others.

  • December 1, 2021: Ethan Crumbley is charged as an adult with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of terrorism and others.

  • December 3, 2021: Prosecutors announce involuntary manslaughter charges against parents James and Jennifer Crumbley.

  • December 4, 2021: Parents plead not guilty.

  • February 4, 2022: A judge decides that the parents should go to trial.

  • October 24, 2022: Ethan Crumbley pleads guilty to the shooting.

  • December 8, 2023: He is sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.

Swartz believes prosecutors may have a difficult time trying to argue that parents were negligent in allowing their son access to a gun.

Ethan Crumbley testified before a judge last year that the gun was “unsecured,” contradicting his parents' claims.

But at that time there was no state requirement requiring households with minors to have firearms locked.

Michigan's law didn't go into effect until this year.

“To be guilty of involuntary manslaughter, you have to prove that a legal duty was breached,” Swartz explained.

“Where was your legal duty?”

An “emotionally charged” trial

One phase of the trial will be who will serve on the jury in a state where gun rights and gun bills have been fiercely debated by lawmakers.

Also at play will be how jurors react to witnesses and other elements, including a teacher who was shot, and video of the shooting.

“This process is very emotionally charged,” Kelly said.

Meanwhile, the Crumbleys have remained free on bail ahead of trial.

They have found support from their own son, who is in a state prison just 17 miles from Oxford High School.

It is unclear whether the teenager will be a witness at trial, although the Crumbleys' attorneys indicated during a hearing in 2022 that they planned to call him and ask him about

"non-related matters that are important to the case."

At his sentencing last month, Ethan Crumbley, wearing thick black glasses, shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit, listened to statements from survivors, who refused to use his name.

When it was his turn, Ethan let his parents off the hook.

“I am to blame for us being here today,” he said.

“They didn't know and I didn't tell them what I was planning to do, so it's not their fault.”

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2024-01-21

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