The mother of a Michigan teenager who killed four fellow students and wounded seven others during a mass shooting at Oxford High School in 2021 was convicted Tuesday in connection with her son’s crimes.
After two days of deliberation, Jennifer Crumbley, 45, was found guilty on 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 committed by their child.
A quiet courtroom
Jennifer Crumbley showed little emotion as she entered the courtroom along with her attorney and applied chap stick to her lips.
Both bore tense expressions.
And Crumbley kept her head down as the jury foreperson began reciting guilty verdicts — one for each of the four Oxford High students gunned-down by her son.
It was a different situation among those attending the trial. Several family members of the shooter’s victims reached out to the prosecution after the verdict came, hugging and shaking hands with the lawyers.
When the verdict was read, Oakland County Judge Cheryl Matthews thanked jurors for their role in the case, acknowledging the difficulty and weight of the decision they had before them.
“We all know that this is one of the hardest things you have ever done,” Matthews said.
A shooting parents could have stopped
Prosecuting attorneys called more than 20 witnesses to testify throughout the seven-day trial in an effort to prove that the defendant and her husband, James Crumbley, ignored signs their son was seriously troubled, bought him the handgun he used in the school shooting and didn’t take what prosecutors called “simple” steps to prevent the shooting from occurring.
They claimed the Crumbleys did not secure the handgun used in the shooting, and 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, prosecutors painted Crumbley as someone more interested in her horses and her own affairs than her son.
Oakland County 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.’”
The prosecution also noted that the Crumbleys failed to turn themselves into police after being charged with involuntary manslaughter. Instead they were found and arrested later at a Detroit art studio.
McDonald told the jury when someone flees after being accused of a crime, it’s typically because they think they did something wrong.
‘There were no signs’
The defense told a different story, calling only one witness — Jennifer Crumbley — to testify in her own defense.
Jennifer Crumbley’s attorneys argued that prosecutors could not prove without a reasonable doubt that she was aware of any mental health issues with her son leading up to the shooting incident, saying the Crumbleys were just like any typical family and could not have foreseen his actions.
During her testimony, Jennifer Crumbley said she never saw any messages or outward signs her son could become violent, and felt any mentions of hallucinations was just her son “messing around” with them for fun.
Defense attorney Shannon Smith argued to 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.”
The defense also alleged that it was James Crumbley, not Jennifer Crumbley, who was responsible for locking up the gun that would become the murder weapon.
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, for one, said merely bringing such a case to trial opens parents to facing 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 Crumbley could especially impact the case against her husband, James Crumbley, who’s set to go to trial on identical involuntary manslaughter charges in early March.
Jennifer Crumbley’s sentencing will take place at 9 a.m. April 9. The maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison.
WDET’s Jenny Sherman contributed to this report.