Jennifer Crumbley’s Legal Odyssey: A Perilous Path Paved with Curiosity for Parents


Michigan wants Jennifer Crumbley behind bars, for the death of four Oxford High School shooting victims. Jennifer’s 15-year-old son Ethan Crumbley, was the shooter. The state claims that the mother should have recognized red flags to prevent the tragedy.

James Crumbley will be charged with the same crime. Both of them have been in prison waiting for trial for nearly three years. This is the first instance that parents have been criminally charged for a shooter’s actions. Their disturbed son was sentenced to prison for life after pleading guilty.

The state and community are enraged by the killings, and it is not surprising. No one knows how to stop these horrible crimes. They think that putting the parents behind bars will make a difference.

There are some problems in this case. There are still many unanswered questions as the jury begins its deliberations Monday. The jury will be asked to convict Crumbley of the deaths she did not cause. The state is not interested in a child that she may have hurt. All evidence indicates that the Crumbleys are absentee and oblivious at best, and abusive and negligent at worst. Why did the state not charge them with Ethan’s child abuse? It would have been a no-brainer if they had.

Ethan’s bedroom was so filthy that his mother allowed him to move into another room instead of cleaning it. He was left alone by the Crumbleys so many times that an expert witness for his attorney called him “feral”, a child abandoned by his parents. The neighbors reported that they fought often and loudly in front of their children. Jennifer had an affair with several men, including those she and her boyfriend met on an adult swinger app. Ethan had 13 cavities all at once. Food was reported to be in short supply at the Crumbley household.

Jennifer continued to spend time and money on horse riding instead of stocking cabinets or making sure that her son was safe, even though he had lost his best friend and grandmother in a short time.

Instead of charging parents with child abuse – which would have seemed like an easy fix – the state overreached by accusing them of unintentional murder. Even the New York Times opinion page couldn’t make sense of it.

It is contradictory for the state to declare Ethan Crumbley as an adult, with full responsibility for his crimes while prosecuting his parent for gross negligence of child care. Ethan Crumbley either was or wasn’t a child. He was either responsible for his actions or his parents were. Can the state simultaneously argue both sides? Prosecutors claim they can.

The parents were criticized for allowing him to have the gun. However, it is a dead end in terms of the law. Michigan did not have any laws governing the safe storage of guns at the time the shooting occurred. It does now. The Crumbleys weren’t legally required to keep their weapon away from their child.

The prosecution has tried to build their case based on the vagaries in the interactions of the Crumbley family as reconstructed from text messages, exchanges on Facebook, and the testimonies of acquaintances who didn’t appear to know the Crumbleys well or like them.

The Crumbleys were not without their problems. The evidence is a puzzle, but we know that Ethan Crumbley struggled and was depressed. The rest is up for interpretation.

Jennifer Crumbley’s lawyer pointed out the mistake of the state in her closing arguments. This should make us all worry about how far politically motivated prosecutors can go to get convictions.

Can every parent be held responsible for all their children’s actions, even when they are not predictable? Shannon Smith, a defense attorney, asked the question. “Should I be held responsible if [my son] begins to look at naked pictures on the cellphone I gave him for his birthday?” “Am I responsible if [my son] sends a photo of his penis (or genitals) to a woman?”

Everybody knows that the state will take an entire continent if they get an inch. What atrocities are they going to inflict upon parents if Jennifer Crumbley’s conviction for involuntary murder sets a precedent? It makes me shudder. You only have to look at the regular reports I do on juvenile court to understand how parents are treated. The state would be happy to add even more crimes to its already long list of jailable offenses.

Jennifer Crumbley’s parenting is terrible. I’m not one to judge other people’s parenting, because what is shown in courtrooms is just a snapshot of the likely behavior behind closed doors. Jennifer is not likely the monster that the state described, but she is not also the innocent and loving mother that the defense attempted to portray.

It seems that there is more than enough evidence for both parents to be found guilty of neglecting and abusing their child who murdered other children. The state failed to meet its burden of proving that the Crumbleys were aware that their son could or would do what he did. Evidence suggests that Ethan was hiding his activities from his family, who were too busy to notice.

Why did the state not charge the Crumbleys for neglect and abuse of the child that they were responsible for, instead of the manslaughter of the children that their son killed? Why did the state choose to use a new law to punish the Crumbleys instead of a more straightforward punishment? After they have jailed the Crumbleys, who is your government going to use this weapon against?

You might not feel sorry if the jury convicts Jennifer Crumbley of involuntary murder, but think about the implications and consequences for all of us. I hope that the jury does not give more power to a system already out of control, with political witch-hunts all over.

You shouldn’t be surprised that school officials who didn’t check Ethan’s bag the day before the shooting, where the gun was found, and didn’t send Ethan home when they discovered a violent drawing with a clear warning about danger were immune from prosecution and lawsuits. The state conveniently can’t prosecute its own for failing to protect the children, while hoping that we will all be too busy hating on the Crumbleys not to notice.