Parents of Mich. School Shooter Receive Maximum Sentence

April 10, 2024
James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of the shooter who killed four classmates at Oxford High School, were sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison for their gross negligence that contributed to the 2021 tragedy.

PONTIAC, MI — Two years after their son gunned down four classmates at Oxford High School, an Oakland County judge on Tuesday sentenced James and Jennifer Crumbley to 10 to 15 years in prison, rejecting the idea they were convicted for bad parenting and instead saying they missed repeated opportunities to stop the tragedy.

James and Jennifer Crumbley, who showed little emotion as the sentence was read, were given the maximum sentence allowed by law by Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews for their gross negligence that contributed to the 2021 high school shooting carried out by their son, Ethan. The sentence — for four counts each of involuntary manslaughter — was in line with what prosecutors had sought.

"Opportunity knocked over and over again and was ignored," Matthews said. "No one answered."


Parents of three of the four victims killed in the 2021 shooting — Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17 — called the sentence "appropriate." Each of the six family members who gave victim impact statements requested Matthews give the Crumbleys the maximum sentence allowed by law: 10 to 15 years in prison.

“I think it was appropriate," said Steve St. Juliana, Hana's father. "I’m very happy the judge made the statement she did and made the determination to give them the max. It’s time to wake up and take responsibility.”

The sentences against James, 47, and Jennifer, 46, marked the end of historic criminal proceedings, the first against the parents of a school mass shooter for involuntary manslaughter. Jennifer's attorney, Shannon Smith, said she plans to appeal. James' lawyer, Mariell Lehman, hasn't indicated whether she will file an appeal.

During the victim statements read in court Tuesday, several parents said the Crumbleys failed not just their children but the shooter by ignoring his deteriorating mental state and still buying him a gun, which they failed to secure.

"You have failed your son and failed us all," said Jill Soave, the mother of Justin Shilling.

Many also called out a statement Jennifer made during her trial that she wouldn't have done anything differently before the shooting. Jennifer addressed this comment in her statement to Matthews, saying it was misunderstood and, with the benefit of hindsight, she would have done things differently.

"The blood of our children is on your hands, too," said Craig Shilling, Justin Shilling's father.

Jennifer, James express sorrow

Both Jennifer and James addressed Matthews, the victims' families and the court before the sentence was handed down.

Jennifer expressed her "deepest sorrow" for the victims' families, acknowledging their pain and anguish.

"I will be in my own internal prison for the rest of my life," she said.

Still, Jennifer Crumbley maintained she and James were good parents, loved their son and what happened to them could happen to any parent. She said she's learned to "never think this could not happen to you."

"The prosecution is trying to mold us into the type of parents society wants to believe are so horrible, only a school or mass shooter" could result, Jennifer Crumbley said. "... We were good parents. We were the average family. We weren't perfect, but we loved our son and each other tremendously."

She said "this could be any parent up here in my shoes. Ethan could be your child, your grandchild."

She also continued to call out Oxford school officials for not doing more to inform her and James what was going on at school. She said much of Ethan's behavior was not disclosed to her.

"In the counselor's office that morning (of the shooting), none of those previous issues were brought to our attention," she said. "... We were never asked to take him home that day."

James Crumbley, speaking for the first time during the criminal proceedings, also apologized to the victims, saying he was "truly sorry" and had no idea what his son was planning. He asked Matthews for a "just and fair" sentence.

"I can’t express how much I wish that I had known what was going on with him (the shooter) or what was going to happen," he said. "I absolutely would have done a lot of things differently."

Both Smith, Jennifer's attorney, and Lehman, James' attorney, declined to comment after the sentencing.

Judge weighs in

During the sentencing, Matthews seemed to push back against that the idea that what happened at Oxford and with Ethan could happen to any parent. The judge said there were warning signs that would make the "hair on the back of your neck" stand up.

She said the verdicts weren't "edicts" about guns, gun ownership or even poor parenting.

"Parents are not expected to be psychic," Matthews said. "But these convictions are not about poor parenting. These convictions confirm repeated acts, or lack of acts, that could've halted an oncoming runaway train."

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald also rejected the notion that the Crumbleys were convicted because of bad parenting or any other kind of narrative.

“They do nothing, and then they come here today, and they claim they’re victims of the school, of the prosecution, of the emotional tensions of public opinion,” McDonald said before Matthews delivered her sentence.

What prosecutors sought

Prosecutors called for 10 to 15 years in prison, highlighting what they characterized as the couple's lack of remorse.

The Oakland County prosecutor said she was thankful for four families who lost their children that Matthews gave out the prison sentences.

"It’s an emotional, terrible tragedy, but the sentence and the convictions were based on facts and evidence,” McDonald said.

Tuesday's sentence was delivered after separate juries in Oakland County convicted Jennifer and James in February and March, respectively, of four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Both deliberated for more than 10 hours before handing down their convictions.

The Crumbleys will get 858 days of credit for time served, meaning the minimum time they would serve is eight years in prison.

Before the sentence was delivered, parents of every student who was killed detailed how their lives had been shattered and how they continue to mourn all they've lost. Many said they'll never be the same.

"The punishment that you face will never be enough," said Nicole Beausoleil, Madisyn's mom.

Reina St. Juliana, Hana's sister, said after the Crumbleys serve their sentence, she hoped they would live more like her younger sister, "loving unconditionally."

Focus turns to Oxford schools

After the sentence, Beausoleil suggested the victims' families, many of whom have also filed civil lawsuits against the Oxford schools related to the shooting, will continue to call for accountability from school officials.

"We're not four families to back down," she said.

During the two trials, school officials testified that they did not view Ethan as a threat on the day of the shooting but were more concerned about his mental health.

Buck Myre, the father of Tate Myre, who died in the shooting, said it was time to turn the focus to Oxford schools, who played a role in the tragedy.

"It's time to drive real change from this tragedy," he said during his Tuesday statement to the court.

James Crumbley responded to Myre's statement, saying he also wanted to the "truth" to emerge from school officials. But after the sentencing, Beausoleil and St. Juliana slammed James' attempt to align himself with Myre. Beausoleil called it far-fetched.

“This was still just yet another attempt to shove the responsibility onto somebody else,” St. Juliana said.

No contact order

Before Matthews delivered her sentence, attorneys for Jennifer and James raised concerns about a proposed no-contact order that would prohibit the couple, even after being sent to prison, from having contact with each other or their son. Ethan, now at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, is serving a life sentence without the chance of parole.

"This is a family," said Smith, Jennifer's attorney. "Despite even having felonies on their records, they have a constitutional right to be a family unless the prosecution can articulate a reason that is valid and surpasses a certain standard to disrupt the family from being able to have contact with each other."

Matthews said co-defendants traditionally are not housed together in prison. She said the Michigan Department of Corrections would treat James and the shooter as enemies and would not house them together.

Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Marc Keast said they are asking for the defendants to be treated like any other defendants and not to allow contact because they are co-defendants.

Matthews said she did not see a reason for a no-contact order and agreed to hold off on making a decision on the issue.

Several times before the sentence was delivered, the defense attorneys and the Crumbleys themselves said they didn't envy the decision Matthews had to make. The judge said she'd been praying and thinking about it "day and night."

Both Lehman, James' attorney, and Smith, Jennifer's lawyer, tried to note that Tuesday's proceedings would end with "no winners." Smith had sought house arrest for her client, while James' lawyer Lehman asked for time served and a GPS tether.

"There are no winners here," Lehman said. "Everyone has lost."



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