DETROIT — The parents of a teenager who killed four students at a Michigan high school can face trial for involuntary manslaughter, the state appeals court said Thursday in a groundbreaking case of criminal responsibility for the acts of a child.
The murders would not have happened if the parents hadn’t purchased a gun for Ethan Crumbley or if they had taken him home from Oxford High School on the day of the shooting, when staff became alarmed about his extreme drawings, the appeals court said.
The court noted that the legal threshold at this stage of the case is fairly low under Michigan law.
“Whether a jury actually finds that causation has been proven after a full trial, where the record will almost surely be more expansive — including evidence produced by defendants — is an issue separate from what we decide today,” the court said in a 3-0 opinion.
James and Jennifer Crumbley are accused of failing to secure a gun and ignoring the mental health needs of their son before the shootings. Besides the deaths of four students, seven people were wounded.
Crumbley, 16, has pleaded guilty to terrorism and murder and could be sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was 15 at the time of the November 2021 shooting.
Attorneys for the parents insist that what would happen that day was not foreseeable. They acknowledge that bad decisions were made but not ones that should rise to involuntary manslaughter charges.
Judge Michael Riordan said parents shouldn’t be hauled to court for “subpar, odd or eccentric” care of their kids. But the evidence against the Crumbleys, he added, is much more serious.
“The morning of the shooting, EC drew a picture of a body that appeared to have two bullet holes in the torso, apparently with blood streaming out of them, which was near another drawing of a handgun that resembled the gun his parents ... had very recently gifted to him,” Riordan said.
It was “visual evidence” that Ethan was contemplating gunshot wounds on someone, the judge said.
The Crumbleys were summoned to school for a meeting about the drawing but didn’t take Ethan home.
The parents’ lawyers declined to comment Thursday, citing a gag order. They’ll likely ask the Michigan Supreme Court to review the case, particularly because that court had ordered the appeals court to hear arguments.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers gave final approval to legislation that was partly influenced by the Oxford shooting. It would require gun owners to keep weapons locked around children. A violation would be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on what a child does with the accessible gun.
When he pleaded guilty, Ethan Crumbley said the gun he used was not locked in a box at home.