Parents of Oxford school shooter sentenced to 10-15 years for involuntary manslaughter

It caps a case many legal experts say could set a precedent for charging parents with a serious crime because of actions taken by their child.

James Crumbley (from left), defense lawyer Mariell Lehman, Jennifer Crumbley, and defense lawyer Shannon Smith await sentencing in Oakland County, Mich., court on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. The Crumbleys were convicted of involuntary manslaughter for a school shooting committed by their son in 2021.

James Crumbley (from left), defense lawyer Mariell Lehman, Jennifer Crumbley, and defense lawyer Shannon Smith await sentencing in Oakland County, Mich., court on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. The Crumbleys were convicted of involuntary manslaughter for a school shooting committed by their son in 2021.

A Michigan judge has sentenced the parents of the teen who murdered four classmates and shot seven other people at Oxford High School in 2021.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Matthews sentenced James and Jennifer Crumbley each to 10 to 15 years in prison on Tuesday, following multiple impact statements from the victim’s families.

“The impact statements given here, and the written statements provided to the court, describe the cataclysmic impact the deaths of these children have had,” Matthews said during the sentencing. “I’ve prayed about this case, I’ve thought about this case. And I’ve considered the possibility for rehabilitation, the need to protect society, the penalty appropriate to the conduct and goal of deterring others from similar conduct.

“I have reviewed the pre-sentence investigation reports. I am of course sadly familiar with the facts and circumstances of these cases, as well as those surrounding each defendant. The advisory sentencing guidelines in this manner do not capture the catastrophic impact of the acts or inaction in these matters.”

The joint sentencing caps a pair of cases many legal experts say could set a precedent for charging parents with a serious crime because of actions taken by their child.

During his impact statement, Buck Myre — Father of Oxford school shooting victim Tate Myre — noted the incredible toll the tragedy has taken on his family and suggested there is more work to be done by prosecutors.

“For our family it’s not time to celebrate,” he said. “This is the low hanging fruit — now it’s time to turn our focus to Oxford schools, who played a roll in this tragedy.”

A rare prosecution

Jurors in separate trials convicted the Crumbleys on four counts of involuntary manslaughter. It’s thought to be the first time the parents of a mass school shooter have ever faced such charges.

Prosecutors never claimed the parents knew about their son’s plans to go on a killing spree at Oxford High. But the prosecution argued the Crumbleys ignored signs their son was seriously troubled and instead bought him a powerful Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun as an early Christmas present.

They never told counselors about the gun they gifted their child when they were called to a meeting at the school the day of the shooting, not even when they were shown drawings the teen made featuring a pistol resembling the Sig Sauer alongside a figure with bullet wounds and phrases like “blood everywhere” and “help me, the thoughts won’t stop.”

Instead the Crumbleys left their son at school and returned to work.

A few hours later the teen emerged from a school bathroom with the gun and began firing his first of 32 shots.

Allegations the weapon was not locked

Prosecutors told the jury if the Crumbleys had taken a “tragically few steps” four Oxford students would likely still be alive.

“Jennifer Crumbley and James Crumbley were not convicted based on a narrative. They were not convicted because somebody thought they were bad or good parents,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said moments prior to the sentencing. “…When two parents have the ability and are in the best position and have the most knowledge and need to protect other kids, and they do nothing… This is what it looks like.”

During the trials, prosecutors showed evidence that the murder weapon was never locked or properly secured away from their troubled son. McDonald also used the murder weapon to demonstrate in court how to use a cable lock to keep the gun from being fired. The process took about 10 seconds.

McDonald argued it was 10 seconds James Crumbley never took the time to do.

A ‘chilling’ lack of remorse

The prosecution lobbied for the Crumbleys to serve 10-15 years in prison, citing what they called a “chilling lack of remorse” on the part of both parents after the shooting.

Prosecutors noted that during her trial Jennifer Crumbley testified, “I’ve asked myself if I would’ve done anything differently. And I wouldn’t have.”

At the sentencing, Jennifer Crumbley said she believes her statement had been misinterpreted and that she regretted saying it, but that she stands by the fact that she and her husband were good parents.

“The prosecution has tried to mold us into the type of parents society wants to believe are so horrible, only a school or mass shooter could be bred from,” she said. “We were good parents. We were the average family. We weren’t perfect, but we loved our son and each other tremendously. Everything we strive for was to make sure our son had the best life we could give him, to grow up with traditions and experiences we had, to be the best person he could be. I know we did our best.”

The prosecution pointed to repeated profanity-laced threats James Crumbley made against McDonald on jailhouse phone calls he knew were being recorded, as well as in an electronic message, to encourage Judge Matthews to hand down the maximum sentence.

They included, “Your ass is going down and you better be f—–g scared,” “There will be retribution,” and that the prosecutor would be “sucking on a f—–g hot rock down in hell soon.”

Mistakes ‘any parent could make’

James Crumbley’s attorney countered that the father had not physically threatened the prosecutor, merely “vented” his anger over what he saw as an unjust incarceration.

The Crumbleys said they were also victims of their son, who they claimed had “manipulated” them into the purchase of a gun they had no idea he would use to kill.

They argued they made “mistakes any parent could make,” given the information they had.

Defense attorneys for the couple noted an Oxford High counselor determined the teen could remain in school the day of the shooting, because he did not seem to pose a danger to himself or anyone else.

The couple maintained they thought their son was a normal teenager simply depressed over the loss of his grandmother, a friend who moved away and a pet dog.

In a pre-sentencing interview with state officials, Jennifer Crumbley said, with the benefit of hindsight, “There are so many things I would change if I could go back in time.”

Defense claims extra prison time unnecessary

The Crumbleys wanted to be sentenced to time-served.

Defense attorneys argued the parents had already spent more than two-and-a-half years in prison, locked in a cell for 23 hours a day.

Further prison time was not necessary, the defense said, because the Crumbleys were not a threat to the public.

And it would not deter others from committing a similar offense, defense attorney Shannon Smith wrote, because “there is no person who would want the events of November 30, 2021, to repeat themselves.”

Pleas for leniency

Smith added that, far from being the uncaring, remorseless mother prosecutors had portrayed to the public and the media, Jennifer Crumbley was very focused on her son and distraught over the devastation he’d caused.

In a sentencing memo, Jennifer Crumbley’s own parents, relatives and others pleaded with the court for leniency. A young woman who said she was 18 when she became Crumbley’s cellmate for a year-and-a-half also wrote the judge. She said Crumbley had greeted her with a basket of snacks and served as a mother figure to her.

The woman also wrote that inmates screamed threats at Crumbley, who tearfully told them she was sorry and, “wished she could change everything her son had done.”

The Crumbleys are likely to appeal their sentences. So is their son, Ethan Crumbly, who pleaded guilty to murder and terrorism charges and is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

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  • Quinn Klinefelter
    Quinn Klinefelter is a Senior News Editor at 101.9 WDET. In 1996, he was literally on top of the news when he interviewed then-Senator Bob Dole about his presidential campaign and stepped on his feet.