Criminal Justice

Parents of Oxford school shooter sentenced to 10-15 years each

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Jennifer and James Crumbley in courtroom

Jennifer Crumbley stares at her husband James Crumbley during sentencing at Oakland County Circuit Court, Tuesday, April 9, 2024, in Pontiac, Mich. The Crumbley's were each sentenced to at least 10 years in prison Tuesday for failing to take steps that could have prevented the killing of four students in 2021. (Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News via AP)

James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of the Oxford school shooter, were sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison by a Michigan judge on Tuesday, after their convictions in separate trials on involuntary manslaughter charges that stemmed from their son’s 2021 rampage that killed four students.

Their sentencing ends one chapter of the emotional, ongoing legal saga that has gripped the exurban Detroit community for more than two years and, more broadly, reshaped attitudes around parental liability in cases where children access a gun and harm others.

Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl A. Matthews said the two parents had repeated chances to help their son and curb his access to weapons, but failed to do so.

“Mr. Crumbley, it’s clear to this court that because of you, there was unfettered access to a gun or guns, as well as ammunition in your home,” Matthews told James Crumbley, 47.

“Mrs. Crumbley, you glorified the use and possession of these weapons,” Matthews said to Jennifer Crumbley, 45. “Your attitude toward your son and his behavior was dispassionate and apathetic. Your response to school staff after a 12-minute meeting was, ‘Are we done here?’”

The Crumbleys could ultimately serve less than eight years in prison; they must serve at least 10 years before they are eligible for parole and will be credited with 858 days of time served having been in custody since their December 2021 arrest. If they are denied parole, they could serve a full 15 years behind bars.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald had sought a total of 10 to 15 years for each parent, detailing in a sentencing memo the trauma, terror and devastation caused by what she said was the Crumbleys’ gross negligence that resulted in their son killing Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17, while wounding others at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021.

After spending the early hours of the Tuesday hearing disputing various facts of the case raised in sentencing memos, attorneys ceded the stand to victims’ family members who delivered powerful impact statements that described how the shooting had irreparably altered their lives. Most of the family members pleaded for Matthews to hand down the maximum sentence.

Nicole Beausoleil, Madisyn Baldwin’s mother, cried as she drew a contrast between her and the Crumbleys in the days and hours before and after the shooting.

“When you knew the gun was missing, you called the police knowing it was your son who took it; I was having family call every hospital describing what she looked like,” Beausoleil said. “When you texted, ‘Ethan don’t do it,’ I was texting Madisyn, ‘I love you, please call mom.’”

Reina St. Juliana, Hana’s older sister and an Oxford student the day of the shooting, described how their younger brother had to learn to write a eulogy before he learned to write school essays. Reina said she never got to say goodbye to her sister and that the next time she saw Hana was to “recognize her lifeless body in the medical examiner’s office.”

James and Jennifer Crumbley, who are expected to appeal their convictions, addressed the court to express regrets - but they stopped short of owning their role in tragedy, saying they had no knowledge of their son’s plan.

Jennifer Crumbley said she was “horrified” after learning victims’ families had “misunderstood” her when she testified that she would not have done anything different leading up to the shooting.

“That answer is true because I thought my son did seem so normal,” Crumbley said. “I didn’t have a reason to do anything different. This was not something I foresaw.”

James and Jennifer Crumbley were sentenced to 10-15 years in prison on April 9 for their son’s fatal school shooting, the first parents to ever be convicted in a case involving a mass shooting at a U.S. school. The Washington Post

James Crumbley told the victims’ families he grieved for their losses before ending his statement by echoing remarks made by Tate Myre’s father, Buck. Moments earlier, Buck Myre had demanded transparency from Oxford school officials and law enforcement; the families have brought wrongful death lawsuits against the school district and some faculty members.

James Crumbley insisted the whole truth of the case had not been told.

“I’m with you, Mr. Myre,” James Crumbley concluded. “I, too, want the truth.”

Defense attorneys argued for leniency, noting that some of their evidence was not included in the trials.

Both defendants highlighted that their own lives had been upended by the shooting and said they, too, were victims of their son’s manipulation. The Crumbleys have not spoken to their son since 2021, nor to each other since their arrests. Jennifer Crumbley requested a “fair and just sentence,” while James Crumbley explicitly asked to be released on electronic monitoring with credit for time served.

Shannon Smith, Jennifer Crumbley’s attorney, had requested her client be sentenced to home confinement on electronic monitoring - where she would live in Smith’s guesthouse. McDonald wrote that such a sentence would be a “slap in the face to the severity of the tragedy.”

But it was James Crumbley whom McDonald described as particularly egregious as she revealed the details of the electronic threats he made from jail that resulted in him losing most of his jail communication privileges midway through his March trial.

“Defendant’s jail calls showed he blamed everyone but himself for what happened and that he repeatedly referred to himself as being a ‘martyr,’” McDonald wrote. She revealed that in calls made throughout 2022 and 2023, James Crumbley referred to McDonald as “that f—ing stupid whore b—-” while addressing McDonald by name and saying he hoped she was listening.

“There will be retribution, believe me,” James Crumbley said in a December 2023 jail message. In a phone call placed a month later, he said he was on a “rampage” and said McDonald “better be scared.”

“His jail calls show a total lack of remorse, he blames everyone but himself and he threatened the elected Prosecutor,” McDonald wrote.

Days after the killings, McDonald made the unprecedented decision to criminally charge parents for a mass school shooting committed by their child. Ethan Crumbley, 15 years old at the time, was charged as an adult and later sentenced to life without parole after pleading guilty to two-dozen charges.

The Crumbley parents’ trials underscore a growing willingness among some prosecutors to charge adults who may have ignored warnings of violence. Hours after the verdict Tuesday, a grand jury in Newport News, Va., charged a school administrator in the case of a 6-year-old student who shot a teacher.

But some observers are wary of a precedent set by the Crumbley convictions. Randy Zelin, a defense attorney who teaches at Cornell Law School, said he was worried by the prospect that courts could impose criminal liability on individuals who don’t actually pull a trigger, or have knowledge or intent of a crime.

“It’s very easy in hindsight - not in the moment, not in real time, not in context - to look back in a vacuum and say, Look what the parents did and didn’t do. And I think that’s unfair,” Zelin said.

Kris Brown, president of the Brady United gun-control organization, said the verdict left her with mixed feelings. Discourse around the case focused heavily on the decisions of individual parents and less on broader issues with how accessible firearms are for children.

“I’m frustrated that we’re not putting more emphasis on prevention. I think this verdict will scare parents,” Brown said, acknowledging that was its own form of deterrent.

Throughout the two trials, the prosecution’s overarching argument against the parents was that they bought a gun for a teenager who was clearly troubled, they failed to secure it, and they failed to take steps before the shooting including the morning of that could have prevented the eventual tragedy.

James Crumbley bought a 9mm SigSauer days before the shooting as an early Christmas gift, while Jennifer Crumbley bought ammunition and took her son to a shooting range to practice with it.

On the morning of shooting, the parents were called in to discuss violent drawings their son had made on a math assignment, including a drawing of a black gun and a bullet-ridden body. The Crumbleys left their son at school and returned to work after he asked to stay. They were alerted hours later of a shooting at Oxford High School.

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