PONTIAC, Mich. (CN) — The high school student responsible for the worst school shooting in Michigan history is eligible for life in prison without parole, but he could still avoid a lifetime behind bars when he is sentenced in December for killing four classmates in Oxford, Michigan, with a gun his parents gave him.
The decision from Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Kwamé L. Rowe on Friday came from a marathon four-day hearing that was delayed for weeks by scheduling issues.
“Accordingly, the court, having weighed all factors … finds that the prosecution has rebutted the presumption by clear and convincing evidence that a sentence of life without parole is a disproportionate sentence,” Rowe said.
Rowe could sentence the shooter to life in prison or decide that a term of years — with a minimum of 25 to 40 and a maximum of 60 — is more appropriate.
Rowe read through his order in a virtual hearing that took about an hour. He went through several factors about the shooter’s age, maturity level and ability to understand adult situations as he referenced past testimony from experts.
Rowe said that the shooter demonstrated maturity with his research of the consequences of the shooting and his Google searches of past mass shootings as well as what sentence he could receive from the court.
The shooter’s family life was a mitigating factor in the judge’s decision as the judge recounted testimony about neighbors watching over the scared shooter when he was left alone during thunderstorms or teachers accusing the shooter’s parents of being drunk at meetings.
However, Rowe said the shooter’s life was “not terrible” since he had consistent housing, visits from family members and there was no sexual or physical abuse.
When the hearing began July 28, the shooter’s lawyers argued that he could be rehabilitated and a lifetime prison sentence was not appropriate, as prosecutors maintained parole should not be an option and presented witnesses and collected evidence for the judge.
One of the witnesses for the prosecution was Lieutenant Timothy Willis of the Oakland County Sheriff's Department, who was questioned by Oakland County prosecutor Marc Keast.
Willis recounted his experience arriving at the grisly scene, dealing with the aftermath and combing over the disturbing content the shooter had produced in the lead-up to the shooting: text messages and journal entries that grew more horrific as time went on.
The shooter made repeated references to planning the rampage in his journal, according to Willis, who said he had never seen anything like this before in his career.
“I want to shoot up the school so fucking badly,” the shooter wrote.
The shooter apparently sought the fame that comes with firing a gun at a school and fantasized about what life in prison would be like for him.
“I want all of America to see the darkness in me,” he wrote.
Heartbreaking testimony filled the second day, with emotional firsthand account testimony from students and teachers who witnessed the shooter during the incident.
Kristy Gibson-Marshall, an assistant principal for Oxford schools, struggled to keep her composure as she described her experience.
Gibson-Marshall knew the shooter when she taught third grade and he transferred into her class. She came face-to-face with him as she tried to attend to shooting victim Tate Myre.
“He just walked past me. He was very calm,” she said.
Gibson-Marshall described her attempted first aid on Myre and said she tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation even though she knew it was futile.
“I needed to save him, for his mom,” she said through tears. “I could feel the entrance wound through the back of his head and exited out of his eyeball.”
The hearing resumed on Aug. 1 and featured a brain injury expert who testified the shooter had a history of mental illness and instability going back to his childhood.
Colin King, a clinical child psychologist and brain injury expert based in Wayne County, prepared a 69-page report and attempted to explain his diagnosis of severe depression and anxiety with psychosis.
King referred to the shooter as a “feral” child, isolated from human contact from a young age and lacking the experience connecting with others to develop social skills and empathy.
Disturbing police body camera footage of the shooter under arrest was also shown in court. In one clip, the shooter yelled nonsensically, flailing about in chair restraints with a spit hood on as police officers surrounded him.
“He is mentally ill,” King concluded. “A child in the throes of psychosis.”
Due to scheduling issues for Judge Rowe, the hearing was not able to resume until Aug. 18, when it concluded with testimony from Lisa Anacker, who evaluates criminal defendants at a state psychiatric hospital. She said the shooter was of sane mind at the time of the event.
The shooter, who was 15 years old when he shot up Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021, was charged as an adult. After initially pleading not guilty, in October 2022 Crumbley admitted to all 24 charges against him and faced life in prison without the possibility of parole, which triggered the need for the hearing, based on the 2012 Miller v. Alabama U.S. Supreme Court ruling that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment. In 2022, the Michigan Supreme Court made the same ruling.
Seven victims survived the massacre while three students died the day of the shooting, with a fourth victim dying the next morning.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 8.
In the adult wing of the jail, segregated from their son, the shooter's parents are charged with involuntary manslaughter. They are accused of making a gun accessible at home and ignoring their son’s mental health.
Oxford, with a population of 3,586, is in central Oakland County, about 40 miles north of Detroit.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.