The Trial of James Crumbley in the Oxford High Killings: What to Know

Jury selection is set to begin on Tuesday in the trial of James Crumbley, whose son killed four students and injured seven others at a Michigan high school in 2021, in the deadliest school shooting in the state’s history.

Three days after the shooting at Oxford High School, prosecutors took the rare step of filing involuntary manslaughter charges against Mr. Crumbley, 47, and his wife, Jennifer Crumbley, 45, setting up one of the nation’s most high-profile efforts to hold parents responsible for violent crimes committed by their children.

Ms. Crumbley was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a separate trial last month. She will be sentenced next month and faces up to 15 years in prison. The Crumbleys’ son pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including first-degree murder, and was sentenced in December to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Here’s what else to know about the case.

Officials called the Crumbleys to Oxford High School on the morning of Nov. 30, 2021, after a teacher saw a drawing by their son depicting a gun and ammunition. The son, Ethan Crumbley, was then a 15-year-old sophomore at the school in suburban Detroit.

“Blood everywhere,” he had written alongside the drawings. “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

The couple spoke with a counselor and decided that their son could stay at school that day, Ms. Crumbley testified during her trial. Neither his parents nor school officials searched his backpack, which contained a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer pistol.

The authorities said Ethan later fired 30 shots with the handgun in a school hallway, killing Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Justin Shilling, 17; and Hana St. Juliana, 14. Seven other people were injured.

According to testimony at his mother’s trial, the teenager had kept a journal that revealed his plans for the massacre. The journal also contained pleas regarding his mental health. “My parents won’t listen to me about help or a therapist,” he wrote.

Prosecutors charged the Crumbleys with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each student killed in the shooting. They argued that the parents were culpable because they had allowed their son access to a gun while ignoring warnings that he was on the brink of violence.

Mr. Crumbley bought the handgun his son used in the shooting, according to records, and Ms. Crumbley accompanied her son to a shooting range a few days before he killed his classmates. Prosecutors said the weapon was a Christmas present.

Karen D. McDonald, the Oakland County prosecutor, said she believed the parents bore some responsibility for the shooting.

“The facts of this case are so egregious,” she said in a December 2021 news conference, pointing to what Ethan had written in class hours before the shooting. She added: “The notion that a parent could read those words and also know their son had access to a deadly weapon, that they gave him, is unconscionable, and I think it’s criminal.”

Lawyers for the Crumbleys have said that the couple “were absolutely shocked parents who had no reason to foresee what would happen.”

Prosecutors in the upcoming trial are likely to focus on the handgun used in the killings. The teenager has said that the weapon was not locked up, and Ms. Crumbley testified at her trial that her husband was more familiar with firearms, and responsible for storing the gun.

At the time of the shooting, Michigan, unlike nearly 30 other states, did not require adults to keep guns in their home out of the reach of children. State lawmakers passed legislation last year requiring that firearms stored in the presence of minors be unloaded and locked up. The rules went into effect last month.

In a setback to Mr. Crumbley’s defense, the judge recently denied the father’s request to have his son’s journal entries and text messages excluded from evidence.

The judge also ruled that one student witness to the shooting would be allowed to testify. Mr. Crumbley’s lawyer had argued that the trial was about the parenting decisions that took place before the shooting, and that testimony about the massacre itself would not be relevant.

Several parents of children who have carried out gun violence in recent years have faced charges of reckless conduct or neglect.

But the involuntary manslaughter charges against the Crumbleys stand out, experts said, making their prosecution a significant test case.

Ms. Crumbley’s conviction could have ramifications in other trials, said Ekow N. Yankah, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, after she was found guilty last month.

“We pay attention to spectacular cases,” he said, “and we don’t pay attention to how much they change the law in nonspectacular cases — how many plea bargains, how many people will spend more time in prison because they won’t want to risk a guilty verdict like this.”

Reporting was contributed by Jack Healy, Campbell Robertson and Stephanie Saul.

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