Parents of Oxford shooter appeal to Supreme Court in bid to avoid trial
- Parents of Oxford shooter seek appeal of court decision finding they can stand trial
- It’s rare — but not unheard of — for parents to face criminal charges when minors gain access to weapons for crimes
- Parents argue Court of Appeals decision is ‘clearly erroneous’ and will ‘cause injustices’
The parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley want the Michigan Supreme Court to reverse a lower court’s decision concluding they could stand trial for allowing their minor son access to a gun used in the rampage.
The Court of Appeals on March 23 determined the trial courts had ample evidence that Jennifer and James Crumbley could stand trial, finding that they were fully aware of “uniquely troubling facts” that, if acted upon, might have prevented the deaths of four students at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021.
Ethan Crumbley, then 15, brought a gun he’d received as a present from his parents to school, killing four Oxford High School students and injuring seven other people. He pleaded guilty to all 24 charges against him, including first-degree murder and terrorism causing death, in October 2022 and is awaiting sentencing.
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James and Jennifer Crumbley have been charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter for allowing their son access to the weapon used in the shooting.
The Crumbleys this week filed appeals to the Michigan Supreme Court, claiming that they could not have foreseen that their son was plotting a mass shooting and should not be held responsible.
Attorneys for James and Jennifer Crumbley wrote in court filings that the Court of Appeals decision was “clearly erroneous, will cause injustices, and conflicts with Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court precedent.”
The Court of Appeals decision “begs the question of when a parent will cross the subjective line of ‘good parenting’ and render himself or herself criminally liable for the independent acts of a teenager,” the attorneys wrote.
“For parents, this interpretation should be particularly troubling, given that the line-crossing is not dependent on the act of the parent, but of the teenager,” they wrote, arguing that even experts cannot accurately determine whether a minor will be spurred to perpetrate a mass shooting.
Prosecutors have argued that because the Crumbleys gave their son, a minor, the gun and ignored multiple warning signs — including a meeting with school officials about disturbing behavior hours before the shooting — they should be held partially responsible for the school shooting.
Evidence provided by prosecutors showed the Crumbleys had been contacted by school officials about disturbing behavior by Ethan Crumbley, including using his phone to look up ammunition on the internet and drawing violent images of a gun and an injured body.
The Crumbleys had also purchased a gun for their son for Christmas and did not connect him with mental health services. Text messages sent by Ethan Crumbley to a friend cited in court documents indicate that he had asked his parents for medical help, but was refused.
Court evidence indicates Ethan Crumbley began showing signs of mental instability by early 2021, both in conversations to his parents and to a friend and in journal entries. The school’s counselor had also expressed concern about Ethan Crumbley’s mental state to his parents.
The Court of Appeals found that one of the “reasonably foreseeable outcomes” of the Crumbleys failing to secure the firearm at that stage would be that Ethan Crumbley would use it in unlawful ways.
It is rare — but not unheard of — for parents to face criminal charges when their children or other minors gain access to adult weapons to commit crimes.
In 2000, a Flint man pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter after a 6-year-old boy he lived with used a handgun to kill a classmate at school.
In more recent years, some metro Detroit parents have faced child abuse charges after non-fatal shootings by their kids.
A 1994 Michigan law established criminal liability for a parent who knowingly allows their child to commit a gun crime at school. It is a misdemeanor, punishable by probation, community services or a fine of up to $2,000.
In Lansing, lawmakers have cited the Oxford shooting when passing bills that would hold gun owners liable if they did not properly store a gun that was used by a minor to hurt or kill someone.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed that legislation and other gun reform measures, including universal background checks. Lawmakers also approved “red flag” legislation allowing courts to order gun seizures if a judge deemed a person a significant threat to themselves or others.
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