A jury will decide whether the mother of the Michigan school shooter is also guilty

Often left home alone, Ethan Crumbley texted his mother in March 2021 that he saw a demon in their home, one that was throwing dishes around the kitchen. Days later, his parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, talked about how their teenage son was “excited and anxious,” weighing whether to give him Xanax.

The following November, James Crumbley, ignoring what appeared to be warning signs that Ethan had mental health issues, bought his son a semi-automatic handgun. Ethan, then 15, used a gun to kill four students at Oxford High School, the worst school shooting in Michigan history.

Jennifer Crumbley, 45, is scheduled to go on trial Tuesday on a charge of manslaughter for the death — new territory when it comes to prosecuting school shootings. James Crumbley, 47, faces a separate trial, set for March, also on involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the murders.

Although adults have been prosecuted before when children have committed violent crimes, the Oxford High School case goes a step further by trying to hold parents criminally responsible for an intentional mass shooting. Oakland County District Attorney Karen D. McDonald said the Crumbleys were guilty of allowing their son access to the gun, ignoring warnings that he was upset.

Both parents have pleaded not guilty, and their lawyers said they had no idea Ethan was capable of such violence.

“One of the fundamental principles of American criminal law is that you are not responsible for someone’s actions,” said Ekow N. Yankah, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. But Mr Yankah said the Crumbleys provided a perfect test case for that principle, pointing to what he called a “damning” set of facts against the couple.

“It’s hard to imagine a set of facts that would be more attractive to prosecute,” he said.

Extensive pretrial testimony and court documents portrayed the couple as neglectful parents. They drank heavily, fought loudly in front of Ethan and often left him home alone, despite his faltering mental health.

After James Crumbley bought the gun, his wife took Ethan to the shooting range.

When the teacher reported seeing Ethan looking for ammunition on the Internet, his mother didn’t seem alarmed.

“LOL I’m not mad at you,” Jennifer Crumbley texted her son. “You have to learn not to get caught.”

On the day of the attack, after a teacher found Ethan with a violent drawing depicting the shooting, his parents refused the school counselor’s request to take him home.

After their son’s arrest, the Crumbleys apparently fled to avoid prosecution and were discovered by police hiding in the basement of a Detroit art studio. (The parents’ attorneys said the Crumbleys did not run away, but left town for their own safety, and plan to return for the trial.)

It is unclear whether Ethan, now 17, will be called to testify, but his lawyers said they would advise him to invoke his right to remain silent. Ethan is appealing his sentence of life without parole.

Unable to post a combined $1 million bond, the parents were held in the Oakland County Jail for more than two years. Oakland County District Court Judge Cheryl A. Matthews will preside over both trials, which will be held separately at the couple’s request.

Since the Nov. 30, 2021, shooting, Ms. McDonald, a prosecutor in affluent Oakland County outside Detroit, has turned gun violence into a personal crusade. In an interview shortly after the shooting, Ms McDonald said she saw the attack as a chance to promote responsible gun ownership.

It also formed a commission to study ways to prevent gun violence. Prompted in part by the shooting, the Michigan Legislature recently passed a measure requiring gun owners to store their firearms in a locked container when a minor is likely to be on the premises. Ethan said the gun he used was not locked.

In 2000, Arthur Busch, a former prosecutor in nearby Flint, Mich., prosecuted a school shooting. Kayla Rolland, a first-grader in the suburbs near Flint, was killed by a 6-year-old classmate.

Prosecutors said the boy, who found the gun in the house where he lived with relatives, treated the gun like a toy. His uncle, who was charged with manslaughter for leaving the gun available, pleaded no contest and spent two years and five months in prison before being released on probation.

Still, Mr. Busch said, the Crumbley case could be difficult to prosecute.

“The fact that they bought him a gun when he had these profound mental health issues, that’s pretty reckless,” Mr. Busch said. “But the closer the public starts to look at this, I think there are parents who might say, ‘That could be me. I have this brash, oppositional child and I’m responsible for that? That doesn’t seem fair to me.”

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