Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, has been pleaded guilty of involuntary manslaughter in a landmark case that demonstrates that a father can be held criminally responsible for a mass shooting committed by his son.
A Michigan jury convicted Crumbley of four counts of involuntary manslaughter for the November 2021 shooting in which his son killed four of his classmates.
The panel of 12 jurors heard nearly two weeks of testimony from law enforcement officials, school administrators, acquaintances of Crumbley and Crumbley herself before rendering their verdict.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors argued that Crumbley was a negligent mother, who did not pay enough attention to her son’s mental health and gave him access to a gun, while devoting her time to horses and an extramarital affair.
Meanwhile, the defense argued that her son “did something she could never have anticipated, understood or predicted.”
Crumbley now faces up to 60 years in prison on the charges, as each of the four counts carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison. She will be sentenced on April 9.
What do involuntary manslaughter charges mean in Michigan?
To be convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Michigan, prosecutors had to prove at least one of two theories to jurors beyond a reasonable doubt.
The first theory is based on gross negligence. This theory, as Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald explained to the court, means that the defendant “caused the death” by acting in a grossly negligent manner.
The second theory revolves around the breach of a legal duty. This theory means that the defendant had a legal duty to the victim, but “intentionally neglected or refused to perform” that duty, and that his “failure to perform was gross neglect of human life.” Ultimately, it means that a victim’s death was directly caused by the defendant’s failure to comply with this legal duty.
Judge Cheryl Matthews defined the legal duty in this case when instructing the jury.
“In Michigan, a parent has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to control his or her minor child to prevent him or her from intentionally harming others or from behaving in a manner that creates an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to others,” said.
If either or both of these two theories are proven, that is “sufficient to establish the crime of involuntary manslaughter,” the judge said.
“It is not necessary for you all to agree on which theory has been proven. As long as everyone agrees that the prosecutor has to prove at least one of those theories beyond a reasonable doubt.”
How did Crumley meet these requirements?
The twelve jurors found Crumbley guilty on all four counts, finding that the prosecution demonstrated that Crumbley was grossly negligent or had failed in his legal duty.
McDonald told jurors in his closing arguments that this is a “rare case that requires some truly egregious facts. “The unthinkable is needed.” Mrs. Crumbley “has done the unthinkable and that is why four children have died,” she said.
The prosecutor added: “She is not someone who used ordinary care to avoid what was reasonably foreseeable.”
McDonald said there were “tragically small” things Crumbley could have done to prevent the shooting.
The court heard how Crumbley had received text messages from his son saying he was seeing demons, how he allegedly laughed at his son when he asked to see a doctor, how he brought a third gun into the family home, which was bought for Ethan. – And how he made it so that a 15-year-old boy could have access to a gun and ammunition in his house.
Despite all of this, she did not disclose these potential warning signs to the school when the alarm was raised about her son’s behavior on the morning of the shooting.
“You are the last adult to possess that gun,” Deputy Prosecutor Marc Keast said during cross-examination of Crumbley. “You saw your son shoot the last practice round before the shooting on November 30th. You saw how he stood up… He knew how to use the gun.”
Crumley replied: “Yes, he did.”
Crumbley’s defense attorney, Shannon Smith, took the opposite approach, arguing that the massacre committed by her client’s son could not have been foreseen.
“Can parents really be responsible for everything their children do? Especially when it’s not predictable? Ms. Smith asked the court in her closing argument. “It was unpredictable. Nobody expected this. “No one could have expected this, not even Mrs. Crumbley.”
Has this happened before?
This case was unprecedented as it marked the first time a father was tried for his alleged role in a mass shooting carried out by his son.
The case could provide a model for how others besides the shooter could be charged over a mass shooting.
Crumbley’s husband, James Crumbley, will be tried separately in March. He also pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Other parents have also faced criminal charges when their child committed a shooting.
The mother of the six-year-old Virginia boy who shot his first-grade teacher, Deja Taylor, was sentenced to 21 months in prison in November after she pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm while using drugs and lying on a background check on her. She used marijuana when she purchased the gun that was later used by her son.
In November, Robert Crimo Jr, the father of Highland Park shooterHe also pleaded guilty to seven misdemeanor counts of reckless conduct after his son opened fire at a Fourth of July parade in the Illinois suburb in 2022. His son was 21 at the time of the shooting.