A Michigan jury finds a mother guilty in a landmark case. The jury said the parent should be held accountable for the deadly actions of their son.
PONTIAC, Mich. - Detroit Free Press - After 11 hours of deliberations in a landmark school shooting case, an Oakland County jury found Jennifer Crumbley guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter, concluding she is responsible for the deaths of four students murdered by her son in the 2021 massacre at Oxford High School.
The case is the first time in America that prosecutors have sought to hold a parent criminally responsible for a school shooting carried out by their child.
"We know this is one of the hardest things you have ever done," Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Matthews told jurors after thanking them for their service.
Jennifer Crumbley had no family support in the courtroom when the verdicts were delivered, or during the trial. Her parents were on the witness list for both the prosecution and defense, though they were never called. No friends were there, either, except for two pastoral workers who left the courtroom visibly shaken.
Crumbley has not spoken to her son or husband since her arrest more than two years ago; a court order prohibits that.
Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty to murdering four classmates and injuring seven other people, and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole. Those killed were Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17. Six other students and a teacher were injured.
His father bought him the 9mm handgun as an early Christmas present. Four days later, the teen used it to open fire at his school. Prosecutors argued that the Crumbleys’ son needed mental health help he didn’t get, and that the parents should have told school administrators he had access to a gun.
School officials summoned the parents for a meeting just hours before the shooting because of a violent drawing.
The maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison. The Crumbleys have been in jail for more than two years, unable to post $500,000 bond while awaiting trial.
Soon after the verdicts were announced, a gun-safety advocacy group hailed the verdict as a step forward in making parents more accountable.
“Today’s verdict underscores the important responsibility of parents and gun owners in preventing children from having unsupervised access to deadly weapons," said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. "Plain and simple, the deadly shooting at Oxford High School in 2021 should have — and could have — been prevented had the Crumbleys not acquired a gun for their 15-year-old son. This decision is an important step forward in ensuring accountability and, hopefully, preventing future tragedies."
Defense experts, meanwhile, expressed concern about the verdict, arguing it sends a dangerous precedent for parents everywhere whose children may commit bad acts.
"This was a guilty verdict in a case that I, along with several national pundits, have viewed as a major overreach in applying the law of involuntary manslaughter," Detroit criminal defense attorney Michael Bullotta, a former federal prosecutor, said following the verdicts.
"Now that we have an example in the books of what facts are enough to subject parents to 15 years or more in prison, I expect that prosecutors in Michigan and nationwide will consider charging parents, not only in school shootings but in many other crimes their children commit," Bullotta said. "It is quite frightening to imagine where this precedent will lead."
Moreover, Bullotta said, this verdict "helped the Oakland County prosecutor construct a slippery slope down which other prosecutors will attempt to slide any number of prosecutions of parents for the conduct of their kids, even where their child’s conduct was unforeseeable, as it was here."
He added: "There is a reason why this is the only case of its kind ever brought. And it should be the last, at least on the facts in the Crumbley case."
Veteran criminal defense attorney Art Weiss agrees, calling the verdict "very scary."
"The verdict has the potential to create a horrible precedent for parents. Virtually anything in 20/20 hindsight can be questioned and criticized," Weiss said. "Now the specter of criminal prosecution and incarceration is not just theoretical, but reality."
He added: "The prosecution had over two years to nitpick everything she did or did not do. Who can realistically stand up to that kind of scrutiny? Parental discretion will now be usurped by prosecutorial oversight and second-guessing."