The Background: Michigan’s deadliest school shooting
The shooter, Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time, killed four students and injured seven others at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021. He pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including first-degree murder, and was sentenced two months ago to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ms. Crumbley, 45, is being tried on four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Her husband, James Crumbley, 47, will be tried separately in March. Both parents are being held in the Oakland County Jail.
The Crumbleys left their home in Oxford shortly after the shooting, in what prosecutors have suggested was an attempt to flee from the authorities. Ms. Crumbley’s defense lawyer, Shannon Smith, argued that the couple feared for their safety in the face of relentless threats.
Why It Matters: Assigning blame after tragedy
The prosecution of the Crumbleys is at the leading edge of a push by some officials to hold parents accountable when they are accused of enabling deadly violence by their children. In the last few months, parents whose children carried out gun violence in other states have pleaded guilty to charges of reckless conduct or neglect.
In Ms. Crumbley’s trial so far, prosecutors have focused in part on Ethan’s access to a firearm. But another issue has loomed larger: whether witness testimony, along with an extensive collection of text messages, can be a reliable window into a troubled teenager’s state of mind or a mother’s attentiveness to her son.
Gun safety may be more of a focus in Mr. Crumbley’s trial, since the evidence indicates that Mr. Crumbley bought the Sig Sauer pistol that was used in the shooting.
The Details: Testimony paints a painful picture
After emotional testimony about the day of the shooting — which started about two hours after school officials met with the Crumbleys about concerns that Ethan might hurt himself — prosecutors spent a significant portion of the trial focused on a trove of electronic communications that they say show Ms. Crumbley could have done more to prevent her son’s deadly actions.
There were messages that Ethan sent to a friend in April 2021, complaining of insomnia, paranoia and hearing voices. There were messages between Ms. Crumbley and her husband, her colleagues and her friends. And there were messages between mother and son: In one March 2021 exchange, Ethan told his mother that their home was haunted, possibly by a demon.
The prosecutors said that Ms. Crumbley did not always respond to her son’s messages of distress in the months before the shooting, suggesting that she was more concerned about taking care of her two horses. But Ms. Smith, the defense lawyer, argued that the months of messages had been cherry-picked.
On Wednesday afternoon, the cross-examination of Brian Meloche, a longtime friend of Ms. Crumbley whom she had texted with after the shooting, took a surprise turn: After an argument between the lawyers and a consultation with the judge, the prosecution and defense agreed to reveal to the jurors that before the shooting, Ms. Crumbley and Mr. Meloche were having an extramarital affair.
In some of her messages to Mr. Meloche, Ms. Crumbley expressed anxiety and regret, saying in one: “I failed as a parent.” But in others, she suggested that school officials were to blame. “The system failed,” she wrote.
What’s Next: The defendant was called to testify
Ms. Crumbley took the stand Thursday afternoon as the first witness called by the defense.
Her lawyer, Ms. Smith, has suggested that she will add more context to what jurors have heard so far, saying in her opening statement that “the prosecution has very selectively pulled out slivers of evidence from a forest of trees.” And she will most likely try to convince the jurors that Ms. Crumbley had always intended to turn herself in to the authorities.
Ms. Smith had also hoped to question Ethan Crumbley, but the judge said she would not require him to testify, because he was expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.