OXFORD, Mich. – Wednesday marked exactly one year since a 15-year-old opened fire inside Oxford High School, killing four students and injuring seven other people.
The shooter pleaded guilty on Oct. 24 to two dozen felony charges, including murder and terrorism in the Nov. 30, 2021 attack. He confessed to the premeditated murder of the following four students: 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, 16-year-old Tate Myre, 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin and 17-year-old Justin Shilling.
Just days after the mass shooting, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald did something no other prosecutor has done in the country. She announced she was charging the parents of the shooter, Jennifer and James Crumbley, with involuntary manslaughter. This is the first time the parents of a school shooter have been charged.
“I am by no means saying that an active shooter situation should always result in a criminal prosecution against parents, but the facts of this case are so egregious,” McDonald said on Dec. 3, 2021.
Why is this case so important nationally?
Paul Stablein is a defense attorney who worked inside the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office. Local 4′s Karen Drew sat down with him to talk about the case and why it’s so important nationally.
“The outcome of this case is going to dictate how prosecutors across the country are going to handle similar situations like this,” Stablein said. “It’s going to have an impact on how parents are going to act from this time going forward.”
What we know about the charges
James and Jennifer Crumbley are both facing involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the deadly shooting. They are accused of ignoring their son’s mental health needs and making a gun accessible to him at home. Their defense argues they cannot be held criminally responsible for their son’s actions.
“There’s only two elements of involuntary manslaughter and that is that the defendant caused the death and that the defendant, in causing the death, acted in a grossly negligent manner,” Stablein said.
“It appears the key to this case is now really taking apart gross negligence,” Karen Drew said.
“Yes, exactly. And then part of gross negligence is knowledge. So you have to know that your failure to act, or your -- the act that you’re doing is likely to cause death or serious injury to another person,” Stablein said.
‘I think my son took the gun’
The father of the shooter said on a 911 call that he thought his son took the gun. That clip has been introduced as evidence in court.
“Somebody told me that there was an active shooter, and then I raced home just to, like, find out, and I think my son took the gun. I don’t know if it’s him, I don’t know what’s going on . . .”
What will the defense argue?
The defense has succeeded in postponing the January trial for the parents. The court has ordered the state appeals court to hear an appeal from them.
“They’re going to argue that ‘they didn’t cause the death, their son did. He’s the one that took the gun, he’s the one that brought it to school, he’s the one that had it in his backpack, and then he’s the one that pulled the trigger. They didn’t do it,’” Stablein said.
“Does it matter? They purchased the gun, they took him for training and they didn’t lock it up safely,” Karen Drew said.
“But that could also be argued the fact that they did take him to show him how to safely handle a gun like any parent does. You know, I’m sure millions of parents in this country have taken their kids to the gun range,” Stablein said.
Parents went into hiding after shooting
“From your legal perspective, does it matter that the parents took off that night and went on the run?” Karen Drew asked.
“Flight can be evidence of guilt in the sense that, ‘why would somebody take off if they didn’t believe they did something wrong?’” Stablein said. “Now, whether it was actual flight or just fear because the instruction also says people can run for all different kinds of reasons, and it could just be fear.”
Michigan Supreme Court postpones trial
On Tuesday (Nov. 29), the Michigan Supreme Court delayed the trial so the parents’ appeals can be heard by a lower court.
In the order, the state must consider whether there was “sufficient evidence of causation” to bind the defendants over for trial on the charges of involuntary manslaughter.”
Jury selection in Oakland County court had been scheduled for Jan. 17.