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Prosecutor says Michigan mom didn't pull trigger but bears responsibility in son's school shooting

Published 01/25/2024, 06:19 AM
Updated 01/26/2024, 12:51 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Jennifer Crumbley, the parent of accused Oxford High School gunman Ethan Crumbley, is escorted into the courtroom by an Oakland County Sheriff during a court procedural hearing in Rochester Hills, Michigan, U.S., February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Reb

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) -Michigan prosecutors told jurors on Thursday that the mother of a boy who carried out a 2021 high school shooting failed to do several "tragically small and easy things" that could have prevented four deaths.

Jennifer Crumbley, 45, and her 47-year-old husband James Crumbley, who will be tried separately next month, are each charged with four counts of manslaughter.

Their son, Ethan, who was 15 at the time of the 2021 shooting at Oxford High School near Detroit, pleaded guilty in 2022 to two dozen counts, including four of first-degree murder, and last month was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The involuntary manslaughter trial of Jennifer Crumbley is believed to be the first to target a parent of a school shooter.

Prosecutor Marc Keast told jurors during his opening that Jennifer Crumbley knew her son was in a "downward spiral" mentally, and that only she and her husband could have known of the danger that Ethan Crumbley posed to others, and that he had access to a gun.

Keast, the judge and the defense attorney all named those who were killed: Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling and Hana St. Juliana

"The evidence will show you that she didn't pull the trigger, but she is responsible for those deaths," Keast said. "She didn't do any number of tragically small and easy things that would have prevented all this from happening."

Shannon Smith, Jennifer Crumbley's defense attorney, said during her own opening that her client had no way of knowing that her son was going to kill four of his classmates.

"Jennifer Crumbley was the mother to a 15-year-old son and she did not have it on her radar in anyway that there was any mental disturbance, that her son would ever take a gun into a school, that her son would ever shoot people," Smith told jurors.

Smith added that it was James Crumbley - and not Jennifer - who was in charge of making sure that a trigger lock was on the gun that Ethan used in the shooting.

Smith said Jennifer Crumbley would testify in her own defense.

Jennifer Crumbley earlier this week asked Sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Matthews to force her son to testify, according to documents filed this week with the Pontiac, Michigan, court by her attorney Shannon Smith.

Public defenders representing Ethan Crumbley as he appeals his life sentence are fighting any order that would compel him to testify, and say they will advise him to invoke his right to remain silent if he is called.

Gun safety experts have said that they hope the Crumbley trials serve as a wake-up call for parents around the country to better secure weapons in their homes. About 75% of school shooters obtained the guns they used in attacks within their own homes, government research has shown.

Experts have said that the parents' trials break new legal ground.

Prosecutors say James Crumbley purchased the 9mm handgun used in the Oxford High attack four days before his son carried it out on Nov. 30, 2021.

On the morning of the shooting, a teacher discovered drawings by Ethan Crumbley that depicted a handgun, a bullet, and a bleeding figure next to the words "Blood everywhere," "My life is useless," and "The thoughts won't stop - help me."

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Jennifer Crumbley, the parent of accused Oxford High School gunman Ethan Crumbley, is escorted into the courtroom by an Oakland County Sheriff during a court procedural hearing in Rochester Hills, Michigan, U.S., February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

The Crumbleys were called to the school on the morning of the shooting, and told that Ethan urgently needed counseling and they needed to take him home, prosecutors have said. The parents resisted the idea of taking their son home and did not search his backpack nor ask him about the gun.

Ethan Crumbley was returned to class and later walked out of a bathroom with the gun and began firing, prosecutors say.

Latest comments

The teacher should be scolded for not calling the police instead of calling the parents of a child that has BIG problems...
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