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Jury Foreperson Explains Why They Found Jennifer Crumbley Guilty For Her Son's Actions

Photo: Oakland County Sheriff's Department
Jennifer Crumbley, Ethan Crumbley and James Crumbley mugshots

In an unprecedented move, the jury in the criminal case against Jennifer Crumbley found the mother responsible for her teen son's murder of four fellow students in a 2021 Michigan school shooting.

Now, the foreperson has explained why the jury found Jennifer Crumbley guilty for her son's actions.

On November 30, 2021, then-15-year-old Ethan Crumbley went into Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, and opened fire on his classmates, killing 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin, 16-year-old Tate Myre, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, and 17-year-old Justin Shilling, and injuring seven others.

He pleaded guilty to murder and terrorism charges in October 2022 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in December 2023. 

But unlike most school shooting cases, Crumbley's parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, have both been implicated in their son's actions, charged with multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter for what many see as criminal negligence for failing to prevent the shooting, and for providing Ethan Crumbley with access to the firearm he used.

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In an unprecedented development, Jennifer Crumbley was convicted of manslaughter on February 6, 2024, for her role in her son's crime, and the jury's foreperson, Alex, said that ultimately it was her negligence that led to the unanimous verdict.

The jury foreperson said the verdict came down to Jennifer Crumbley's handling of the firearm used in the shooting.

Speaking to the press outside the courtroom, Alex explained that there were many factors at play and hinted that there was substantial disagreement among the jury during deliberations.

   

   

"It wasn't an easy decision. Lives hung in the balance, and we took that very seriously," she said. "I will say that both sides were well represented."

But ultimately, the 12 jurors came to agree that Jennifer Crumbley's handling of the firearm superseded all other mitigating factors. "The thing that really hammered it home," Alex said, "is that she was the last adult with the gun." 

The Crumbley family had taken a trip to a local gun range days before the shooting. Jennifer Crumbley did not dispute prosecutors' claims that she was the last person to handle the firearm afterward and said that James told her he had locked up the 9mm Sig Sauer firearm, which James Crumbley purchased just days before, upon their return.

The following day, Jennifer Crumbley received a call from Oxford High School officials that Ethan had been caught researching bullets on his phone. In response, Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, "LOL I'm not mad... You have to learn not to get caught."

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Ethan Crumbley later testified in his own criminal trial that the gun was purchased by James Crumbley for him with money he gave his father, and that it was, in fact, not locked up when he took it to Oxford High School three days after the gun range outing.

"For me," Alex told NBC's TODAY, "I just feel like Jennifer didn’t separate her son from the gun enough to save those lives that day."

Ethan Crumbley's journal and cries for help also impacted the jury's decision to convict Jennifer Crumbley.

Alex also told NBC that the disturbing details found in the shooter's journal, text messages between him and his parents, and his cries for help regarding his mental health that seemed to be ignored by his parents also impacted the jury's decision.

"To me, personally, it wasn’t as impactful as the evidence of her having the gun," Alex said, "but I know for my fellow jurors, the notebook played a huge part." 

That notebook has stood out among many as a prime example of Jennifer and James Crumbley's negligence. That journal contained numerous disturbing drawings and lines of writing, including a sketch on a math worksheet of a gun, a bleeding victim, and text that read "the thoughts won't stop… help me… blood everywhere…."

In another line in the journal, the shooter wrote, "I have ZERO help for my mental problems, and it's causing me to shoot up the [expletive] school." 

In a meeting about the journal — held just hours before the shooting — Dean of Students, Nicholas Ejak, urged the Crumbleys to immediately take their son home and seek mental health treatment. They refused, saying they had to return to work, but agreed they would get their son mental health treatment within 48 hours. 

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In her testimony, Jennifer Crumbley said she "wouldn't do anything differently" in her handling of the situation, which former federal prosecutor Mark Chutkow told the Detroit Free Press likely heavily influenced the jurors.

Many lawyers, even those who agree with this particular verdict, worry about the precedent it may set. 

Jennifer Crumbley's conviction has been enormously controversial. Many people have taken to social media to express outrage that parents would be held accountable for their children's criminal actions. But these reductive interpretations dismiss the very real and obvious lapses in judgment on the part of the shooter's parents.

   

   

More salient are Oxford High School administrators', especially Ejak's, lapses, which have also been controversial. During the meeting on the morning of the shooting, Ejak failed to search Ethan Crumbley's backpack or ask his parents if they owned a gun and allowed Crumbley to remain at school after he said he was afraid to be alone at home.

But for many legal experts, the question of Jennifer Crumbley's negligence is not in question. What worries them about the verdict is the potentially dangerous precedent it sets. As HuffPost put it in an analysis of the issue, "Is being a 'bad mom' a crime?"

Columbia Law School professor Josh Gupta-Kagan explained to HuffPost that no, in fact, it is not, and for good reason. "We should fear the state enforcement of a higher [parenting] standard," Gupta-Kagan said. "We should fear such a standard being enforced in a discriminatory manner based on class and race."

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He also urged caution "about allowing the state to be second-guessing really hard mental health care decisions for parents."

Brandis Bradley, a TikTok creator and veteran attorney who has worked as both a prosecutor and defense lawyer (and, full disclosure, an acquaintance of this writer's), agrees. 

   

   

"Like it or not, this is a slippery slope," Bradley said in a video on the matter. "How far are we going to go with this? Are we going to start criminally charging grieving parents when their children use devices around the home to [commit suicide] because they're depressed?"

Bradley stressed that she agrees with this specific verdict in spirit. "Mama Crumbley puts the 'gross' in gross negligence," she irreverently said. But, the knock-on effects for future cases cause concern. "This verdict raises questions about due process," she said. 

"The reason you see so many attorneys expressing skepticism about this verdict is because our job is to protect you, and… your rights," she went on to explain. "When… you see the government depriving a mother of her liberty on account of her child's criminal actions, red flags start going up everywhere."

But Chutkow, in comments to the Free Press, disagreed. "I don’t think there will be a landslide of these cases because the facts here were so extreme," he said, citing the fact that the Crumbleys "[knew] their son was lonely and delusional, yet they bought him a lethal weapon just four days before the mass shooting."

It remains to be seen, of course, how this new precedent will actually play out in future cases. One test will come with James Crumbley's trial for the same charges, currently set to begin on March 5, 2024. 

What is certain, however, is that, as Benjamin Franklin famously said at the time of our country's founding, freedoms come with responsibility on the part of the people.

The right to gun ownership necessitates responsible, careful handling and management of firearms. It is inarguable, given the myriad pieces of evidence at hand, that the Crumbleys failed catastrophically on that account. We would all do well to learn from it.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.