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James Crumbley, father of Ethan Crumbley, found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in son’s school shooting

Crumbley was charged in connection with son Ethan’s 2021 school shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan. His wife, Jennifer, was convicted on the same charge.
/ Source: NBC News

PONTIAC, Mich. — A jury on Thursday convicted James Crumbley of involuntary manslaughter in connection with his teenage son’s deadly school shooting in 2021, in step with his wife, who was found guilty last month on the same charge.

The jury’s decision after about 10 hours of deliberations caps a landmark case that for the first time in the U.S. held the parents of a mass school shooter criminally responsible. James and Jennifer Crumbley’s son, Ethan, who was 15 when he opened fire at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit, pleaded guilty as an adult and was sentenced in December to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

James Crumbley, 47, faces up to 15 years in prison per the four counts of involuntary manslaughter, each one representing a murdered student. Jennifer Crumbley, 45, will be sentenced in April.

Prosecutors said James Crumbley had bought Ethan a 9 mm Sig Sauer as a gift a day after Thanksgiving, at a difficult time in his son’s life when he was struggling emotionally because his best friend had moved away. Crumbley is not accused of knowing about the attack beforehand, which his son had warned about in journal entries.

While the cases against the husband and wife largely mirrored each other, with many of the same witnesses testifying in both trials, prosecutors did not delve as deeply into James Crumbley’s social and work life. Testimony took less than a week, and Crumbley did not take the stand in his own defense, like Jennifer Crumbley had.

But his actions in the lead-up to and the day of the school shooting played a vital role. School staff testified that the Crumbleys were called to Oxford High School that morning about a drawing made by their son depicting a gun and a person shot. The parents didn’t tell school officials he had access to a weapon and said they couldn’t take him back home that day, saying they had work.

A computer crimes expert testified that James Crumbley had not begun his DoorDash delivery job until after the meeting and that when he started taking orders, he drove by the family’s home four times — with the prosecution suggesting he had the opportunity to check on the gun and ensure it was safely secured.

Crumbley later told investigators he hid the 9 mm handgun in an armoire and placed the ammunition underneath jeans in another drawer.

Ethan Crumbley would go on to kill four students: Justin Shilling; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Hana St. Juliana, 14.

During closing arguments Wednesday, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said the deaths were “preventable and foreseeable” if Crumbley had done any number of “tragically small efforts,” and she attempted to undercut the defense by telling jurors that parents can be responsible gun owners no matter if their child is planning a mass shooting.

Still, McDonald said, the trial is unusual, and the circumstances surrounding it are what led prosecutors to build a case of involuntary manslaughter.

“This case is not a statement about guns. It’s not a statement about parental responsibility. It’s not a case about kids doing kid things,” she said.

The majority of jurors in Crumbley’s trial are parents and also either own guns, grew up around guns or have family or friends who have them — highlighting how firearm exposure is a familiar facet of this region of Michigan, where hunting is a popular activity.

Defense lawyer Mariell Lehman said in her closing arguments that the prosecution had to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and that it presented no evidence to show Crumbley knew his son was a danger to the public or that he had access to the gun.

“But you didn’t see it because it isn’t true,” Lehman said. “James didn’t know. This can be your reasonable doubt.”

James Crumbley’s trial moved at a faster clip than his wife’s trial, in which the prosecution presented 21 witnesses compared to 15 in his. Prosecutors initially expanded the witness list to include a student who survived the shooting and the original owner of the 9 mm handgun, but did not end up calling them to testify.

Prosecutors in the mother’s case had focused more heavily on Jennifer Crumbley’s perceived parenting failures and how she seemed to ignore her son’s mental distress while she was preoccupied with her hobbies and an extramarital affair.

During James Crumbley’s trial, prosecutors stressed to jurors that although Michigan now has a safe gun storage law that went into effect this year, it was still his legal duty as a parent to prevent his minor child from causing “unreasonable risk of harm to others.”

Testimony in James Crumbley’s trial began last Thursday. On that same day, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Matthews signed a court order revoking his jail phone and electronic messages — except for his lawyer or legitimate clergy or for using his tablet for research — after he allegedly made “threatening statements” of an undisclosed nature.

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

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

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