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Jennifer Crumbley convicted of involuntary manslaughter over son's school shooting

Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of Oxford school shooter Ethan Crumbley, enters the courtroom in Oakland County Circuit Court on Monday  in Pontiac, Mich.
Bill Pugliano
/
Getty Images
Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of Oxford school shooter Ethan Crumbley, enters the courtroom in Oakland County Circuit Court on Monday in Pontiac, Mich.

The mother of a Michigan teenager who killed four fellow students and wounded seven other people during a mass shooting at Oxford High School in 2021 was convicted Tuesday in connection with her son's crimes.

The jury found Jennifer Crumbley guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter. It's believed to be the first time a parent has been tried for manslaughter in connection with a mass shooting conducted by their child.

A quiet courtroom

Jennifer Crumbley showed little emotion as she entered the courtroom along with her attorney.

Both bore tense expressions and Crumbley repeatedly applied chap stick to her lips. She kept her head down as the jury foreperson announced the guilty verdicts, one for each of the four Oxford High students gunned-down by her son.

It was quite a different reaction from several family members of the victims. After the verdict, they reached out to the prosecutors — hugging and shaking their hands.

A parent's culpability

Prosecutors argued that Crumbley had not taken what they called "simple" steps that could have stopped the massacre from ever happening.

They claimed the Crumbleys did not secure a handgun they bought as a present for their son-- the weapon he used at during the shooting rampage at Oxford High School.

Prosecutors also maintained Crumbley had ignored signs her son was troubled.

They said Crumbley refused their son's request to see a doctor after he told them he was seeing a "demon" throwing bowls across their house and wanted mental help.

Throughout the trial the prosecution described Crumbley as someone more interested in her horses and her own affairs than her son.

Prosecutor Karen McDonald showed the jury video of Crumbley and her husband seeing their son for the first time at a police station only hours after the shooting.

She alleged that even then, Crumbley seemed more concerned with herself than her child.

"It's already clear that he is probably never, ever, ever gonna be out of prison for the rest of his life," McDonald said. "She's texting (her boss,) 'Don't judge me based on what he did. I need my job.' "

"There were no signs"

The defense told a different story.

Attorney Shannon Smith called Crumbley as her sole witness.

She testified that she never saw any messages or outward signs her son could become violent and his talk of hallucinations was him just "messing around" with his parents for fun.

Crumbley said she thought any depression her son displayed was due to the loss of his pet dog, the death of his grandmother and his only close friend leaving town.

Smith told the jury, "No parent would purchase a weapon if they believed their child had mental illnesses."

Crumbley also testified that she did not take her son home from school the day of the shooting because counselors there told her he didn't pose a threat to anyone.

"I've asked myself if I would've done anything differently and I wouldn't have," Crumbley said on the stand. "I wish he would've killed us instead."

But during closing arguments Prosecutor McDonald argued that Crumbley's testimony underlined the prosecution's point, when the mother said her son's actions had ruined so many lives, including her own.

"She was asked the question, 'You lost everything?' She said yes. She hasn't lost everything. Her son is still alive," McDonald said.

A historic case

Legal experts say the verdict against Crumbley could set a national precedent for holding parents responsible for crimes committed by their child.

Some predict charging the Crumbleys with something as serious as involuntary manslaughter may have already set a new legal standard.

Detroit criminal law attorney William Swor said merely bringing such a case to the trial stage opens the door for parents to face more than misdemeanors or civil penalties.

"Holding parents to a criminal liability for what their children do is a big change. This is not the last time we will see this. And it will not be confined to cases where children kill other children," Swor said.

The guilty verdict against Jennifer Crumbley could impact the case against her husband, James. His trial on identical involuntary manslaughter charges is set to begin in early March. During her trial, Jennifer Crumbley repeatedly testified that it was James who was responsible for keeping what became the murder weapon secured and away from their son.

Jennifer Crumbley's sentencing date is April 9th. She faces as many as 15 years in prison. Her son, Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced late last year to life without parole.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Quinn Klinefelter

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