James Crumbley, Following His Wife and Son, Stands Trial for Michigan Shooting - The World News

James Crumbley, Following His Wife and Son, Stands Trial for Michigan Shooting

Opening statements are set to begin Thursday morning in the trial of James Crumbley, in the same Pontiac, Mich., courtroom where his wife was convicted last month for failing to stop their son from carrying out the worst school shooting in Michigan history.

Mr. Crumbley faces the same charges as his wife, Jennifer Crumbley: four counts of involuntary manslaughter for the four students killed by their son, who was 15 when he opened fire in a hallway at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021.

The teenager, Ethan, pleaded guilty last year to 24 charges, including first-degree murder. But in a rare move, prosecutors have also sought to hold his parents criminally responsible, saying they neglected warning signs about their son’s mental health and plans for the deadly rampage, which also injured seven people.

Their lawyers have said that the couple had no inkling that their son was capable of such violence, and Ms. Crumbley, 45, testified that she had not seen him as a danger to others. Jurors, however, found her guilty after 11 hours of deliberation.

Mr. Crumbley, 47, who requested a separate trial, will face a different jury but many of the same arguments from prosecutors, along with an additional factor for the jurors to consider: He bought the 9-millimeter Sig Sauer handgun that his son used to kill his schoolmates, Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Justin Shilling, 17; and Hana St. Juliana, 14.

That purchase, which happened four days before the shooting and was intended as an early Christmas present, “is the one differentiating factor that makes his case more of an uphill battle” for Mr. Crumbley, said Mark Chutkow, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor in Michigan.

But, he added, involuntary manslaughter is a charge that can be broadly interpreted, leaving plenty of room for subjectivity for jurors — and no guarantee that prosecutors can get a second conviction.

“It’s a different jury,” Mr. Chutkow said. “And each time you have a new case, it’s like another roll of the dice.”

During her trial last month, Ms. Crumbley was described by prosecutors as a detached and neglectful mother who engaged in an extramarital affair and at times showed more interest in caring for her horses than her son. But prosecutors may take a different approach with Mr. Crumbley, who was recorded on video at a police station shortly after the shooting repeatedly saying “I love you,” to his son, and then sobbing before an interview with officers.

“I do think he’s got more of an opportunity to portray a more sympathetic portrait of himself,” Mr. Chutkow said.

Prosecutors will very likely focus on how the teenager gained access to the handgun, which he brought to school in his backpack. Neither his parents nor school officials searched the bag on the morning of the attack, when the Crumbleys were called to meet with a counselor after a teacher saw Ethan making violent drawings.

In her testimony last month, Ms. Crumbley said her husband was more familiar with firearms and had been responsible for storing the weapon.

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

At Ms. Crumbley’s trial, prosecutors also introduced evidence, including multiple text messages, suggesting that Ethan was struggling with mental health issues in the months before the shooting. He claimed that his house was haunted, and that he was hearing or seeing things that were not there.

Several of those messages were sent to a friend, and some to Ms. Crumbley. It was unclear whether Ethan had shared similar texts with his father, but messages exchanged by the Crumbleys suggest that the couple were aware, to some degree, of their son’s distress.

Ethan had also kept a journal in which he wrote about a plan to cause bloodshed. “My parents won’t listen to me about help or a therapist,” he wrote. Judge Cheryl A. Matthews, who also presided over his wife’s case, denied Mr. Crumbley’s request last month to have his son’s journal entries and text messages excluded from evidence.

It is unclear whether Mr. Crumbley will testify in his own defense, as his wife did. His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. Ms. Crumbley cannot be compelled to testify against her husband.

Ethan is unlikely to testify. During his mother’s trial, Judge Matthews did not require him to do so because he was expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The teenager was sentenced in December to life in prison without parole, but is still eligible to appeal his sentence.

Ms. Crumbley’s conviction can also be appealed. She will be sentenced next month and faces up to 15 years in prison.

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