Trial of Michigan shooter’s father: lawyers debate if he ignored warning signs

By Thomson Reuters Mar 13, 2024 | 2:31 PM

(Reuters) – James Crumbley, whose son killed four fellow students in a 2021 U.S. school shooting, criminally failed to heed warning signs about his son’s instability, resulting in a foreseeable tragedy, prosecutors said in closing arguments on Wednesday at his manslaughter trial.

Crumbley, 47, is being tried on four counts of involuntary manslaughter for allegedly ignoring his son’s mental state and not securing the semi-automatic pistol that prosecutors say he bought as a Christmas present for his son, Ethan.

That was just days before Ethan Crumbley, then 15, used the gun in the 2021 shooting, killing four fellow students at Oxford High School near Detroit.

“He did nothing over and over and over again,” Oakland County, Michigan, prosecutor Karen McDonald told the jury.

Defense attorney Mariell Lehman argued that James Crumbley could not have known what his son would do.

Last month Crumbley’s wife was convicted on the same unusual charge. Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty in 2022 to four counts of first-degree murder and other charges and was sentenced to life in prison without parole in December.

Witnesses have testified during the trial that on the morning of the shootings, a teacher discovered drawings by Ethan Crumbley depicting a handgun, a bullet and a bleeding figure next to the words “Blood everywhere,” “My life is useless,” and “The thoughts won’t stop – help me.”

The Crumbleys were summoned to the school that morning and told that Ethan needed counseling and they needed to take him home, according to prosecutors. The couple resisted taking their son home and did not search his backpack or ask him about the gun, prosecutors said; the teenager returned to class and later walked out of a bathroom with the gun and began firing.

McDonald also presented the jury with texts that Ethan Crumbley had sent to a friend and journal entries he had written in the months leading up to the shooting, in which he talked about wanting medical attention and hearing voices, but he was worried his parent would be “pissed.”

On one occasion, according to a text message to a friend, McDonald said Ethan had asked James Crumbley to take him to the doctor but his dad “gave me some pills and told me to suck it up.”

Defense attorney Lehman argued that “James had no idea that his son was having a hard time,” saying there was no evidence that James knew the contents of his son’s text messages or journal.

Lawyers for Jennifer Crumbley, James’ wife, made a similar argument in her trial on the same charge, which ended with her conviction on Feb. 6. That was the first time a parent faced such a charge stemming from a U.S. school shooting by a child.

The U.S., a country with persistent gun violence, has experienced a series of school shootings over the years, often carried out by current or former students.

The jury began deliberating on Wednesday afternoon.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; editing by Donna Bryson and Josie Kao)