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Parents of Michigan school shooter Ethan Crumbley both sentenced to 10-15 years for involuntary manslaughter

James and Jennifer Crumbley were both convicted of involuntary manslaughter in their son Ethan’s deadly shooting at Oxford High School in 2021.
/ Source: NBC News

The first parents to ever be charged, then convicted, in their child’s mass shooting at a U.S. school were both sentenced Tuesday to 10 to 15 years in prison after facing the victims during a sentencing hearing in a Michigan courtroom.

James and Jennifer Crumbley were sentenced one after another by Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Matthews as they appeared together for the first time since they attended joint hearings before their landmark trials were separated last fall. Their son, Ethan, now 17, pleaded guilty as an adult to the 2021 shooting at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit and was sentenced to life in prison.

Oakland County prosecutors had asked Matthews to sentence both Crumbley parents to 10 to 15 years in prison on four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each of the students their son killed.

The couple sat apart at the defense table with their lawyers beside them as the families of the four students who were killed asked for the maximum sentence to be imposed.

“When you texted, ‘Ethan don’t do it,’ I was texting, ‘Madisyn I love you, please call mom,’” Nicole Beausoleil, the mother of shooting victim Madisyn Baldwin, 17, told the Crumbleys. “When you found out about the lives your son took that day, I was still waiting for my daughter in the parking lot.”

Jill Soave, the mother of another slain student, Justin Shilling, 17, said the parents’ inaction on the day of the shooting on Nov. 30, 2021, “failed their son and failed us all.”

Justin’s father, Craig Shilling, said he was troubled by Jennifer Crumbley’s testimony during her trial in which she said she wouldn’t have done anything differently, even today.

“The blood of our children is on your hands, too,” Craig Shilling said.

James Crumbley wore an orange jumpsuit and headphones to help with his hearing, and Jennifer Crumbley wore a gray and white jumpsuit. He didn’t look at his wife, while she glanced in his direction.

Jennifer Crumbley looks at her husband, James Crumbley, during their sentencing on April 9, 2024 at Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Mich.
Jennifer Crumbley looks at her husband, James Crumbley, during their sentencing on April 9, 2024 at Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, Mich.Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

In Michigan, prosecutors said, felonies that rise out of the same event must run concurrently, so the most Matthews could have imposed is 15 years in total. And while prosecutors wanted the parents to receive sentences that exceeded the advisory guideline range, Matthews had the ultimate discretion, weighing factors such as past criminal behavior and the circumstances of their crimes.

Before she was sentenced, Jennifer Crumbley told the court that while she felt “deep remorse, regret and grief” about the shooting, she also deflected some of the blame onto school officials and took offense to the prosecution’s strategy portraying her as a neglectful mother.

“We were good parents,” Crumbley said. “We were the average family. We weren’t perfect, but we loved our son and each other tremendously.”

James Crumbley also addressed the court, explaining to the judge that he did not know beforehand about his son’s planned attack on his school, and telling the victims’ families directly that he would have acted differently on the day of the shooting.

“Please note that I am truly sorry for your loss as a result of what my son did,” he said. “I cannot express how much I wish I had known what was going on with him or what was going to happen.”

In sentencing memos for their defense, both of the Crumbleys’ lawyers asked the judge to give them credit for the two years and four months they’ve spent in an Oakland County jail.

Jennifer Crumbley asked to serve out her sentence on house arrest while working remotely and living in her lawyer’s guest house.

James Crumbley’s lawyer asked the court to sentence him to the time he has already served and a maximum period of supervision, or an additional 15 months behind bars.

Matthews said during Tuesday’s sentencing that the family wouldn’t be housed together, and that the Michigan Department of Corrections has indicated James and Ethan Crumbley specifically won’t be in the same facility given their relationship. Ethan is being held in a state prison 17 miles from Oxford High School. Jennifer Crumbley would be sent to the state’s only women’s prison.

Both James and Jennifer Crumbley have not been able to communicate as part of a no contact order since their arrests.

In both parents’ cases, prosecutors wrote that their “gross negligence changed an entire community forever.”

They both could have prevented the shooting with “tragically simple actions,” prosecutors wrote, adding that they “failed to take any action when presented with the gravest of dangers.”

A side by side of Jennifer and James Crumbley in court.
Jennifer and James Crumbley.Getty Images file

But James Crumbley could face a harsher sentence after prosecutors said he made threats in jail, legal experts say.

During his trial, Matthews restricted his communication to only his lawyer and clergy.

The sentencing memo for James Crumbley referred to allegations that he made threats against the prosecutor and said that “his jail calls show a total lack of remorse” and that “he blames everyone but himself.”

The memo details the expletive-ridden threats he is alleged to have directly addressed to the prosecutor on multiple recorded jail calls. In one call before the trial, he said, “Karen McDonald, you’re going down,” according to prosecutors. In other calls, he threatened retribution, they said.

James Crumbley’s lawyer, Mariell Lehman, wrote in court documents that the calls did not include threats to physically harm the prosecutor but that he expressed his desire to ensure that McDonald is not able to continue practicing law as a result of her actions in the case.

“It is clear Mr. Crumbley is venting to loved ones about his frustrations related to the lack of investigation done by the prosecution prior to authorizing charges,” Lehman wrote, saying her client is understandably angry at his situation.

The prosecution’s memo also says James Crumbley asserted his innocence in a pre-sentence report, indicating a lack of remorse.

“I feel horrible for what happened and would do anything to be able to go back in time and change it! But I can’t. And I had nothing to do with what happened,” he wrote, according to the prosecution memo. “I don’t know why my son did what he did. HE is the only one who knows.”

Lehman has not said whether she plans to appeal James Crumbley’s verdict, while a lawyer for Jennifer Crumbley, Shannon Smith, has written that she will.

Two separate trials

James Crumbley did not take the stand during his trial. His wife testified that she placed the responsibility of securing the 9 mm semiautomatic handgun used in the shooting on her husband.

Asked whether she would have done anything differently, Jennifer Crumbley told jurors, “I don’t think I’m a failure as a parent.”

Prosecutors argued that she knew of her son’s deteriorating mental health and social isolation and that he had access to a gun but that she cared more about her hobbies and carrying on an extramarital affair than about being present at home.

Her defense lawyer attempted to portray her as a caring mother, albeit one who did not know her son was capable of such violence — suggesting instead that his school failed to fully inform her of his troubles and that her husband was responsible for the weapon.

Smith continued to defend her client in her sentencing memo.

“Criticizing Mrs. Crumbley for being ‘rarely home’ is a sexist and misogynistic attack on a mother,” Smith wrote.

In a pre-sentence report, Jennifer Crumbley said she has the hindsight now to know she would have handled things differently.

“With the information I have now, of course my answer would be hugely different,” she said. “There are so many things that I would change if I could go back in time.”

Both her and her husband’s trials centered on the day of the shooting.

A day after Thanksgiving, prosecutors said, James Crumbley bought their son the handgun, while Jennifer Crumbley took him to a gun range that weekend.

On Tuesday, a teacher said she had found a note on Ethan’s desk with a drawing of a gun and a person who had been shot, along with messages including: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

That discovery prompted the school to summon the parents for a meeting, but school officials testified that they declined to bring him home because they had to go back to work.

The officials also said that if the parents had informed them that their son had access to a gun, they would have been more authoritative to ensure immediate safety.

Ethan would go on to commit the school shooting later that afternoon, killing Baldwin; Shilling; Tate Myre, 16; and Hana St. Juliana, 14.

Victims’ families want accountability

In the aftermath of the trials, the victims’ families have demanded further accountability. They are seeking changes to governmental immunity laws that protect schools from being sued and want to see a requirement for independent reviews after any mass shooting.

Oakland County prosecutors have said they do not plan to charge anyone else in connection with the massacre.

Steve St. Juliana, Hana’s father, told NBC News last month that he realizes it’s a “high bar” to find officials criminally responsible, as well.

“Our children are dead. They’re not coming back,” he said. “We’re fighting for everybody else and to try to wake people up to realize that what happened here in Oxford can and will happen again.”

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.

Selina Guevara and Maggie Vespa reported from Pontiac and Erik Ortiz from New York.