PONTIAC, Mich. (FOX 2) - More than two years after Jennifer Crumbley’s son killed four students inside Oxford High School, her unprecedented trial for involuntary manslaughter is underway.
Crumbley’s trial opened Thursday in Judge Cheryl Matthews’ courtroom in Pontiac, Michigan. Crumbley, 45, and her husband James Crumbley are both charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Nov. 30, 2021 shooting. They’re the first parents of a mass shooter to be charged for their child's crimes.
"Jennifer Crumbley didn't pull the trigger that day, but she is responsible for those deaths," Assistant Prosecutor Marc Keast told the 12-person jury.
The shooter’s parents are accused of ignoring their son's mental health and providing him with the 9 mm gun he used to kill his peers and injure a teacher. Their son was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole late last year.
Prosecutors: Crumbley ignored son’s ‘mental crisis’
Assistant Prosecutor Marc Keast opened the state’s case with the faces of the four students killed: 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin, 16-year-old Tate Myre, 17-year-old Justin Shilling, and 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana.
"Despite her knowledge of his deteriorating mental crisis, despite her knowledge of his growing social isolation, despite the fact that it’s illegal for a 15 year old to walk into a gun store and walk out with a handgun by himself -- this gun was gifted," he said.
"And by the time this gun was bought, the school shooter was in a downward spiral that had begun months before."
Keast showed the jury communications between the shooter’s parents on the day of the shooting, then discussed the meeting Jennifer and James Crumbley had with the counselor at school just hours before their son opened fire. Prosecutors said Jennifer Crumbley got up and left the meeting after 11 minutes.
"On November the 30th, Jennifer Crumbley was still given the opportunity to prevent these murders from ever happening. Instead, she chose to do nothing," he said.
Defense compares Oxford case to Taylor Swift song
Defense Attorney Shannon Smith began her opening arguments with a Taylor Swift line. Smith told the jury she blasted Swift on her way to court, then compared the prosecution’s case to a line from Swift’s "Bad Blood": "Band-aids don’t stop (sic) bullet holes."
"And that's what this case is about. It's about prosecution attempting to put a Band-Aid on problems that can't be fixed with a Band-Aid," Smith said.
She said Crumbley agrees that the shooting was horrific and the worst possible thing that could have happened. Smith argued that all the reasons for charging Crumbley will not solve problems.
"Jennifer Crumbley did the best she could as a mother to a child who grew up into a teenager and had no way to know what was going to happen," she said.
The prosecution, defense and judge have all agreed to not use the shooter's name – but throughout her opening statement Smith did so multiple times.
Oxford teacher, assistant principal first to testify
With opening statements finished, it was time for Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald to call the prosecution’s first witness, teacher Molly Darnell.
She was the teacher who was shot on Nov. 30, 2021.
Darnell testified that she heard three pops as kids started running with their arms extended. As she went to close her door, she saw a figure in oversized clothing through the glass pane next to her door, which was locked at that time.
The gunman then raised his arm and she felt her left shoulder go back before experiencing something like a burn. She also observed a bullet hole through the window in the back of the classroom.
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Her next thought was to barricade the room to keep the gunman outside.
Roughly 20 minutes later, Darnell sent texts that she had been shot. A teacher came to her door, followed by two officers who carried her away. Eventually she was taken to the hospital.
The second witness was Kristy Gibson-Marshall, the school’s assistant principal, who retraced her steps that day, including the moments that escalated to her realizing an active shooter was in the school.
As she walked the school, she came across a victim on the ground before seeing the gunman.
She soon realized she recognized the shooter as a student, including one she had seen before. She asked him if he was okay, thinking out loud in court, "It didn't seem right that it would be him." She later said on her walkie-talkie that she had eyes on the shooter and there was a victim.
She finished her testimony by walking the jury through a video of her finding the body of Tate Myre and the shooter in the hallway. Jennifer Crumbly cried loudly as the video played.
Lawyers spar over emotions in courtroom
McDonald and Smith had a heated moment over emotional reactions in the courtroom.
McDonald accused the defense of not following Judge Matthews’ instructions to not show emotion during trial.
"You're concerned about the influence of the jury," she told Judge Matthews. "I take no issue with it, but it was a difficult thing. It's difficult (not showing emotion). And we're doing it. And then to have not just the defendant, her lawyer, sit there sobbing…I think if that is the instruction, we are trying really hard to respect the court's instruction because I understand the reason for it," she said.
Smith countered that she wasn’t sobbing, and said Crumbley was crying because it was the first time she’d seen the video shown in the courtroom. The video showed the scene after the shooting, including victims in the hallway.
"It’s horrific," Smith said. "That’s why we asked the court not to play it."
Judge Matthews clarified that she didn’t mean no one could show emotion, but emphasized sticking to the facts so both sides have a shot at a fair trial.
"I'm not a robot. I'm trying to keep myself from sobbing. I'll do it at 6:00 tonight," she said.
Text messages show shooter had access to gun
A string of messages between James and Jennifer Crumbley displayed at trial showed the two discussing purchasing a gun for the shooter.
Brett Brandon, a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), said they were found on James Crumbley’s phone. In one message, James said he was taking his son to the gun store. A later message showed Jennifer asking if they got a gun. James responded that they had to wait.
Facebook messages between Jennifer and Jason Crumbley
Other messages between the Crumbleys include a video of their son using the firearms at a firing range. Jennifer posted a video on Instagram of her and her son with the gun, and the shooter also sent a video to his friend showing him holding the gun with the message: "My dad left it out so I thought. ‘Why not’ lol"
Judge Matthews said the trial is expected to last two to three weeks. Jennifer Crumbley is expected to testify, according to her attorney.
Around 5 p.m. on Thursday, Matthews dismissed the jury and asked them to return to court Friday at 8:30 a.m.
James Crumbley will be tried separately at a later date.