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Parents of Michigan school shooter must stand trial on manslaughter charges

Lawyers for the couple asked an appeals court to drop the charges against them, but a three-judge panel ruled there is enough evidence for a trial to move forward.

DETROIT (CN) — The parents of a Michigan high school student who fatally shot four classmates learned their immediate fate Thursday when a state appeals court determined that involuntary manslaughter charges against them can stand.

Jennifer and James Crumbley – the first parents of a school shooter to be charged with a crime related to the shooting – remain in custody as they fight the charges. Their attorneys filed appeals documents on Oct. 10 claiming they were innocent because they had nothing to do with the planned attack and are not “responsible for the deaths of others.” The filings said their son Ethan Crumbley bears complete responsibility.

The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed in an order published Thursday morning.

“[T]he defendants were actively involved in EC’s mental health state remaining untreated…provided him with the weapon used to kill the victims…and…refused to remove him from the situation that led directly to the shootings,” Judge Christopher M. Murray wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel.

Ethan Crumbley, whose rampage left four students dead and several others injured at Oxford High School in November 2021, pleaded guilty last October to all 24 charges against him, including the first terrorism charges brought against a U.S. school shooting suspect. He will be sentenced this spring.

His parents initially filed their appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, which ordered the Michigan Court of Appeals to rule on the case. The dispute centered on whether the Crumbleys had enough information about their son that the shooting was predictable.  

“One of the few reasonable foreseeable outcomes of failing to secure the firearm that was gifted to EC was that it would be accessible to EC and that, in his mentally deteriorated condition, he might use it in unlawful ways,” Murray wrote in the order.

He added: "Despite their knowledge of all of these circumstances, when given the option to help EC and take him out of school, defendants did nothing. They did not…take EC home and get him immediate medical help. Nor...did they tell school officials about EC’s history of mental health issues....Defendants neither asked EC if he had the gun with him nor did they look in his backpack.”

During a hearing held on March 7, the parents' defense attorney Mariell Lehman tried to convince the three-judge panel that the prosecution failed to meet basic standards to charge them with a crime.

“[They] failed to point to a single case in which under this context an individual can be held criminally responsible for the calculated, planned, intentional deliberate acts of another person,” she said.

Judge Michael J. Riordan wanted to know how the Crumbleys could have knowledge of disturbing drawings their son made at school prior to the incident and not have a reaction.

“Certainly a warning sign, wouldn’t you say?” the judge asked Lehmen.

“Not a warning sign he was going to kill four people,” she answered.  

“There were warning signs all over the place,” Judge Christopher P. Yates said. “At the end of the day, aren’t we looking at foreseeability more than anything else?”

Lehman said there were no concerns that the shooter would hurt anyone else and the prevailing thought at the time was that he might hurt himself.

“I will concede that these parents made tremendously bad decisions, but criminal trials are not based on bad decisions,” the attorney concluded.

Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Shada acknowledged that charging the parents of a criminal is rare and should be reserved for a special set of circumstances.

Murray challenged Shada by saying no case law supports the situation at hand.

“But there is case law to support it in the general principals,” Shada responded. “They knew he had a fascination with guns.”

Riordan bristled at that characterization.

“There’s nothing wrong with being interested in guns or letting children shoot,” the judge said. “What message are we going to send with this case here?”

“Namely, gross negligence,” Shada replied.

Earlier this month, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Mary Ellen Brennan dismissed several lawsuits against the Oxford school district and staff members, concluding the school system has governmental immunity from the claims.

Eight victims survived being shot, while three students were pronounced dead the day of the shooting and a fourth victim succumbed to his injuries the next morning.

The first complaint over the shooting came just a month after the tragedy, when Riley Franz, a then-17-year-old who suffered a gunshot wound to the neck, filed a federal lawsuit against the school district. Franz's lawsuit alleged school officials should have known something was brewing.

In January 2022, another lawsuit was filed in Oakland County Circuit Court by the family of Tate Myre, a 16-year-old student who was shot and killed during the deadly shooting spree. The now-dismissed complaint accused Oxford teachers and counselors of not doing enough to stop Crumbley from carrying out the rampage even though he exhibited “strange” and “bizarre” behavior.

Recent docket entries for the federal lawsuits against Oxford Schools note that the parties are working towards a settlement.

Categories: Criminal Regional Trials

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