PONTIAC, Michigan –
A Michigan jury was instructed by a judge and began deliberating Monday in a novel trial against the mother of a school shooter who could go to prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of four students in 2021.
“You should not allow sympathy, bias or bias to influence your decision,” Oakland County Judge Cheryl Matthews said.
Prosecutors say Jennifer Crumbley was grossly negligent when she did not tell Oxford High School officials that the family had weapons, including a 9mm pistol that her son, Ethan Crumbley, had used at a shooting range just days earlier. .
The school was concerned about a macabre drawing of a gun, a bullet and a wounded man, accompanied by desperate phrases, in the boy’s math homework. But he was allowed to remain at school on Nov. 30, 2021, after a roughly 12-minute meeting with Jennifer and James Crumbley, who did not take him home.
The teenager pulled the gun out of his backpack in the afternoon and shot at 10 students and a teacher, killing four classmates. No one had checked the backpack.
“He literally drew a picture of what he was going to do. He says, ‘Help me,'” prosecutor Karen McDonald said during closing arguments Friday in suburban Detroit.
Jennifer Crumbley knew the gun in the drawing was identical to the new one she had at home, McDonald said.
“She knew it was not stored properly,” the prosecutor added. “She knew he had control of the gun. She knew he had access to ammunition.”
“Only the smallest steps” by Jennifer Crumbley could have saved the lives of Hana St. Juliana, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling and Madisyn Baldwin, the prosecutor said.
About four hours after deliberating Monday, the jury sent a note to the judge asking if he could “infer anything” if prosecutors did not produce Ethan Crumbley or others to specifically explain how he got the gun from his home.
“The answer is no. Only the evidence admitted in the case is allowed to be considered,” Matthews told the jury.
The shooter, now 17, pleaded guilty to murder and terrorism and is serving a life sentence. His mother wanted to call him as a defense witness during the trial, but his lawyers said she would invoke his right to remain silent. He could still appeal his sentence.
During her closing argument last week, defense attorney Shannon Smith told jurors that a conviction would have a chilling effect on unwitting parents whose children break the law. The tragedy, she claimed, was not foreseeable.
Ethan Crumbley was a “skilled manipulator” who did not suffer from any mental illness, and the gun was the responsibility of James Crumbley, not his wife, Smith said.
“Unfortunately, this is a case where the prosecution made a charging decision too quickly,” Smith said. “It was motivated for obvious reasons, for political gain and to attract media attention.”
He said the case will not bring justice to the victims or their families: “It certainly does not bring back any lives.”
The jury, made up of six men and six women, includes some gun owners or people who grew up with firearms in their home. They said it wouldn’t interfere with their ability to be fair.
Jennifer Crumbley, 45, and James Crumbley, 47, are the first parents in the United States to be charged in a mass school shooting committed by their son. The latter will be judged in March.
In addition to knowledge of the gun, the Crumbleys are accused of ignoring their son’s mental health needs. In a journal found by police in his backpack, he wrote that they did not listen to his pleas for help.
“I have no help for my mental issues and it is causing me to shoot myself up at…school,” Ethan wrote.
The maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison. The Crumbleys have been in prison for more than two years, unable to post $500,000 bail while awaiting trial.