A Mom’s Conviction Offers Prosecutors a New Tactic in Mass Shooting Cases

The guilty verdict on Tuesday against the mother of a Michigan teenager who murdered four students in 2021 in the state’s deadliest school shooting is likely to ripple across the country’s legal landscape as prosecutors find themselves weighing a new way to seek justice in mass shootings.

But, legal experts say, don’t expect a rush of similar cases.

“I have heard many people say they think a guilty verdict in this case will open the floodgates to these kinds of prosecutions going forward,” said Eve Brensike Primus, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “To be honest, I’m not convinced that’s true.”

That’s because prosecutors in Michigan had notably compelling evidence against the mother, Jennifer Crumbley — including text messages and the accounts of a meeting with school officials just hours before the shooting at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021 — that jurors felt proved she should have known the mental state of her son, Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time.

Ethan pleaded guilty in 2022 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Ms. Crumbley was convicted on four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each student her son killed. She faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, and sentencing is scheduled for April 9.

Ms. Crumbley’s husband, James Crumbley, 47, will be tried separately in March.

“Could more prosecutors file charges emboldened by this kind of ruling and the verdict?” Professor Primus said. “Sure. Do I think they will be successful around the country getting charges to stick if they don’t have the requisite facts that can demonstrate real knowledge? No.”

Still, Professor Primus and other legal experts who have followed the case say the successful prosecution of Ms. Crumbley, 45, provides a template for prosecutors around the country to pursue similar cases.

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