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Jury selection begins for James Crumbley, father of Oxford High School shooter

Posted at 1:43 PM, Mar 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-05 19:24:18-05

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP MODIFIED) — A man who purchased a gun with his son four days before the Oxford High School shooting is headed to trial, accused of failing to take steps that could have prevented the teen from killing four students and wounding others.

No one says James Crumbley knew what Ethan Crumbley planned to do at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021. But prosecutors allege that his “gross negligence” was a cause of the violence.

It is the second act for prosecutors: the shooter's mother Jennifer Crumbley was convicted of the same involuntary manslaughter charges a month ago. They are the first U.S. parents to be charged with having criminal responsibility in a mass school shooting committed by a child.

Jury selection in James Crumbley’s case began Tuesday with more than 300 people summoned to Oakland County court, north of Detroit, to fill out a one-page questionnaire and await a possible call-up to the courtroom.

“I don’t think it’s overreach,” Rick Convertino, a Detroit-area defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor, said of the trials.

“I think the prosecution did an excellent job in putting the links of the chain together” during Jennifer Crumbley's case, Convertino said. “What led to the horrific shootings could easily have been prevented by simple and ordinary care.”

James Crumbley, accompanied by 15-year-old Ethan, purchased a Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun over Thanksgiving weekend in 2021. The boy called it his “new beauty” on social media. His mother, also on social media, described the gun as a Christmas gift and took Ethan to a shooting range.

A few days later, the parents went to Oxford High to discuss a violent drawing on Ethan Crumbley’s math assignment, which was accompanied by tormented phrases: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. The world is dead. My life is useless.” There was a gun on the paper that looked similar to the Sig Sauer.

The parents “chose silence” instead of disclosing the gun purchase and a visit to the shooting range, assistant prosecutor Marc Keast said in a court filing.

The Crumbleys didn’t take Ethan home, and the school didn't demand it. But the parents departed with a list of area mental health services. School counselor Shawn Hopkins said Jennifer Crumbley cited her work as the reason to keep her son in class.

“I don't remember James speaking on that topic,” he testified.

No one — the parents or school staff — checked the boy’s backpack for a gun, and the shooting happened that afternoon.

James Crumbley called 911, frantically saying, “I think my son took the gun.”

Convertino predicts the call will be “extraordinary, powerful evidence” for prosecutors, who will argue that the father failed to safely store the gun and ammunition.

Defense lawyers, however, said the parents could not have foreseen a mass shooting.

The case “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,” Mariell Lehman and Shannon Smith said in a court filing.

Ethan, now 17, is serving a life prison sentence for murder and terrorism. He told a judge when he pleaded guilty that his money was used to buy the gun and that the weapon was not locked at home.

Jennifer Crumbley returns to court for her sentence on April 9. Her minimum prison term could be as high as 10 years.

Both parents have been in jail for more than two years. They were unable to post a bond of $500,000 each, following their arrest at a friend's art studio in Detroit. They insisted they were not trying to flee.

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