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Jennifer Crumbley, mother of Michigan school shooter, found guilty in unprecedented case

Defendant Jennifer Crumbley listens to her attorney, Shannon Smith, before leaving the courtroom after deliberations on a question from the jury during her trial at Oakland County Courthouse on Feb. 5, 2024, in Pontiac, Michigan. (Clarence Tabb Jr./The Detroit News/TNS)

An Oakland County jury has found the mother of the Oxford High School shooter guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter, capping an emotional seven-day trial that some legal experts viewed as a litmus test for holding parents criminally responsible for their children’s actions.

As the 12-member jury read their verdict on Tuesday afternoon in Oakland County Circuit Court, Jennifer Crumbley, with her hands clasped on a table in front of her, showed little reaction but closed her eyes and looked down. Jurors deliberated for 11 hours before arriving at a decision. Crumbley will be sentenced April 9 and faces up to 15 years in prison.

“We all know this is the hardest thing you’ve ever done,” Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews said after the verdict was read.

The verdict capped a nationally watched trial that marked the first time a parent had been tried in connection with a mass shooting by his or her child. Prosecutors portrayed Crumbley, 45, as a negligent parent who ignored signs her teen son was in crisis, never got him help and bought him a 9mm gun anyway.

But her attorney described Crumbley as a caring parent and argued that there was no way the Nov. 30, 2021, shooting was foreseeable.

More than 50 people, mostly members of the news media, filled the courtroom Tuesday to hear the verdict.

Craig Shilling, whose son, Justin, was one of the teens killed during the shooting, was in the courtroom for the entire trial and called the verdict “long overdue.” He hugged Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald after the verdict and shook the hands of other prosecutors.

“We have been asking for accountability across the board,” said Shilling, who took a leave from work to attend the trial. “This is one step towards that. I feel moving forward it’s not going to be any easier because of what we left behind, but it gives us hope for a brighter future.”

He said the trial wasn’t about his opinion or anyone else’s.

“It’s about the facts, the evidence and the diligence of the jury,” said Shilling. “They were diligent with their decision, they understand the gravity of the situation, they understand the importance of this case and the fact that they came out with the verdict that they did shows the people have spoken.”

Steve St. Juliana, whose daughter, Hana, also was killed, was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read but did attend much of the trial. Speaking to reporters outside the court Tuesday, he said he attended because he wanted to get answers he hadn’t gotten yet and to represent his daughter.

“What stood out to me … was about the meeting they (the Crumbleys) had with the school, and the fact that (former Dean of Students Nick) Ejak testified to say that if he would have known about access to a weapon, he would have approached it completely different,” St. Juliana said. “And I find that very disturbing.”

He said knowing that the shooter had gone to the shooting range and had been looking up bullets should have been enough knowledge to at least ask the question about access to a weapon.

“It’s not like he had to stretch his memory,” St. Juliana said. “It was right there in front of them literally. As the prosecutor said, he drew them a picture.”

McDonald, who has been vocal about Crumbley’s negligence in her historic decision to charge Jennifer and her husband, James, did not comment after the verdict because a gag order remained in place by Matthews. Crumbley’s attorney, Shannon Smith, also didn’t comment.

Crumbley’s conviction now sets the stage for her husband, James, who will be tried next. His trial is scheduled to start March 5.

Four teens were killed in the 2021 shooting: Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17. Family members of Madisyn, Hana and Justin were in Oakland County Circuit Court throughout the trial.

Ethan Crumbley, who pleaded guilty to the killings, was sentenced in December to life in prison without the chance of parole.

Prosecutors, who rested their case Thursday after calling 21 witnesses and introducing 400 exhibits, had to prove Crumbley showed gross negligence and didn’t exercise ordinary care by ignoring her son’s mental state and not getting him help, while still buying him a gun. Crumbley was the defense’s only witness, as she took the stand in her own defense.

A journal found in the shooter’s backpack detailed his plans to shoot up Oxford High School, but Crumbley maintained she’d never read it and that she also didn’t read her son’s text messages.

The guilty verdict means the jury found Crumbley stored the firearm and ammunition in a way that allowed the shooter to have access to it and was grossly negligent in her actions. The defense had argued that James Crumbley handled the guns in the household.

At the start of deliberations, Matthews, in her instructions, said evidence that prosecutors presented insinuating the Crumbleys ran from police after the shooting in early December 2021 does not prove their guilt, as people may run or hide for innocent reasons or because of a consciousness of guilt.

Matthews said the jury also had to decide that the shooter’s actions were reasonably foreseeable in order to find Crumbley guilty. They had to determine that Crumbley knew of the danger her son posed to others and that, had she used ordinary care, the deaths could have been avoided.

“It’s not enough that the defendant’s acts made it possible for the crime to occur,” Matthews said before deliberations began Monday. “You must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the deaths were a natural or reasonable result of the defendant’s acts.”

Attorneys sought to paint opposite pictures of Crumbley throughout the trial: Prosecutors portrayed her as an inattentive parent more concerned with her horses and and an affair she was having at the time than her son, even when he expressed concerns about staying home alone and having hallucinations.

She also didn’t ask about her son for 10 days after she was arrested in early December 2021, according to audio recordings of her calls in Oakland County Jail played in court Friday. Crumbley said she’d been told her calls would be flagged if she mentioned his name.

But according to Smith, Crumbley was an engaged parent who made the judgment calls she thought were right based on information she had at the time.

Prosecutors’ witnesses included school officials who raised concerns about the shooter’s mental health, survivors of the shooting and law enforcement officers who investigated.

“She has done the unthinkable, and because of that, four kids have died,” McDonald, the prosecutor, said in closing arguments Friday.

But Crumbley’s attorney, Smith, accused prosecutors of purposely choosing the evidence they showed jurors to make Crumbley look like a negligent parent who ignored warning signs of the shooter’s downward spiral. Smith suggested the shooter was actually not mentally ill, but a “master manipulator.”

Crumbley testified her son never asked for help

Experts say Crumbley will likely appeal her conviction and sentence, which could take as long as a year if not longer.

Crumbley defended her parenting during her nearly four hours of testimony at the tail end of the trial, saying she didn’t feel like a failure. She also denied her son ever asked for mental health treatment before he opened fire on his classmates. This is despite comments Crumbley made to coworkers and a friend the day of and week after the shooting about feeling like she had failed her son.

She denied that her son asked for mental health treatment in spring of 2021, let alone that she had laughed at him when he asked, something the shooter told his friend in a text. She also denied that he was depressed, though she sent a text to the mom of the shooter’s friend that she worried about him seeming depressed.

Crumbley said that Ejak, the former Oxford dean, and Hopkins didn’t mandate that the shooter be taken home. Ejak and Hopkins both testified that they did not view the shooter as a threat but were more concerned about his mental health.

Crumbley said she wishes her son would’ve acted differently, but even looking back, she would not have changed her parenting decisions.

“I wish he would’ve killed us instead,” Crumbley said of herself and her husband, James.

After the verdict, Shilling said hearing Crumbley say that during the trial felt like a “slap in the face.” St. Juliana agreed.

“And it hurts,” said Shilling, standing inside Oakland County Circuit Court. “Something like that hurts because I would do a lot differently. I would do a lot differently.”


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