The Michigan Supreme Court made history Friday in letting the unprecedented charges stick against James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of the Oxford school shooter who must now stand trial for their alleged roles in the deaths of four students murdered by their son in 2021.
The Crumbleys are the first parents in America charged in a mass school shooting as prosecutors seek to hold them criminally liable for buying their son the gun that he used in the massacre, and, for never telling the school about the weapon when they were summoned over his troubling behavior.
The parents, who are facing involuntary manslaughter charges, have been fighting for two years to get the charges dismissed. Their final appeal was before the Michigan Supreme Court, which after seven months since receiving the request, opted not to hear their case.
In a one-paragraph order released early Friday morning, the state's highest court wrote: " … it is denied, because we are not persuaded that the question should be reviewed by this court."
To avoid a trial, the Crumbleys, who have been jailed for almost two years now on involuntary manslaughter charges, could still cut a deal in the case and plead guilty in exchange for potential leniency. However, the prosecution would have to agree to any such agreement, and the judge would have the final say.
Neither side can comment on the latest ruling as there is a gag order that prohibits both the defense and prosecution from publicly speaking about this case.
The Michigan Supreme Court's decision comes just days after an Oakland County judge concluded that the couple's son, Ethan Crumbley, is eligible for life without parole for his crimes when he is sentenced in December.
The Crumbleys have long maintained that they kept the gun properly stored, and had no idea their son would carry out a mass shooting.
But the prosecution, which conceded from the get-go that this was a difficult case, alleged the Crumbleys were irresponsible parents who ignored a mentally ill child and bought him a gun instead of getting him help. In the months before the shooting, the boy had told his mom and a friend he was hearing voices and seeing demons in the house.
Prosecutors also argued that the Crumbleys — more than anyone else — could have prevented the shooting had they informed school officials that they had bought their son a gun on the morning they were summoned to the school over his troubling behavior. On the morning before the shooting, Ethan Crumbley had drawn a gun and a human body bleeding on his math worksheet, along with the words, "The thoughts won't stop. Help me."
The Crumbleys went back to their jobs after the school meeting and promised to get him help, never disclosing they had bought him a gun.
Two hours later, Ethan Crumbley emerged from a bathroom and opened fire in the hallways, killing four students and injuring seven others, including a teacher.
"While the shooter was the one who entered the high school and pulled the trigger, there (were) other individuals who contributed to the events on Nov. 30, and it’s my intention to hold them accountable as well,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said two days after the shooting, referring to the Crumbleys.
But the defense countered the charges were overreaching, unwarranted, and could set a dangerous precedent for parents everywhere who could be held accountable for their childrens' actions.
"Of course, the desire to hold someone accountable for the tragedy that occurred at Oxford High School on November 30, 2021 is certainly understandable, but 'the temptation to stretch the law to fit the evil is an ancient one, and it must be resisted,' " defense attorney Shannon Smith argued in prior court filings.
The defense has long argued that the initial district judge in the Crumbley's case abused her discretion in binding the couple over for trial, maintaining the decision to charge them was "clearly erroneous," sets a dangerous precedent and will "cause injustices."
The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding in March that the judge did not abuse her discretion and upheld the charges.
So the Crumbleys appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, maintaining that the prosecution could not prove that they caused the students' deaths and that the only one responsible was their son, who pleaded guilty to the murders last year.
"Certainly, after every school shooting, the media and those affected are quick to point to so-called 'red flags' that were missed by those in the shooter’s life. But the truth of the matter is, one cannot predict the unimaginable," attorney Mariell Lehman, who is representing James Crumbley, wrote in her filing to the Supreme Court.
Smith, who is representing Jennifer Crumbley, echoed that in her filing, arguing the rationale for charging the Crumbleys “should be particularly troubling” and “begs the question of when a parent will cross the subjective line of 'good parenting' and render (themselves) criminally liable for the independent acts of a teenager.“
In this case, Smith argued, it was the teenage son who terrorized a school with deadly violence, not the parents.
Ethan Crumbley’s "acts, without a doubt, constitute intentional misconduct,” Smith wrote in her filing with the Supreme Court. “As made clear by his 21-page journal, (Ethan) did not, in the spur of the moment, embark on the homicidal rampage; to the contrary, (he) planned the attack well in advance.“
And, Smith argues, his parents had no way of knowing this.
The Oakland County Prosecutor's Office disagrees, arguing that the Crumbleys, more than anyone else, could have prevented the shooting had they paid attention to their son's mental health, alleging the boy was spiraling out of control but got no help from his parents.
After the shooting, police discovered the journal in Ethan Crumbley’s backpack. In it, he detailed his plans to shoot up his school, writing, among other things:
“The first victim has to be a pretty girl with a future so she can suffer like me," and, “I will kill everyone I f------ see”
“I have fully mentally lost it after years of fighting with my dark side. My parents won’t listen to me about help or a therapist.”
In the journal, he also apologized to his parents for what he was about to do:
“I’m sorry for this, Mom and Dad. I’m not trying to hurt you by doing this. I have to do this … I love you, Mom. I love you, Dad."
In his final entry, he wrote in large, bold letters: “Forgive me.”
The Crumbleys say they never knew of the journal's entries until after the shooting. When they heard them in court, they hung their heads and wept.
Contact Tresa Baldas: email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan Supreme Court won't hear case of James and Jennifer Crumbley