OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. – The Michigan Court of Appeals has affirmed that the parents of the Oxford High School shooter can go to trial on involuntary manslaughter charges.
READ: Should parents of Oxford shooter face charges? How judges picked apart both arguments
James and Jennifer Crumbley are both facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter after their son opened fire inside Oxford High School in November 2021, killing four students and injuring many others.
The defense team for the Crumbley parents argued earlier this month that the charges are an overreach, and should be dismissed. Prosecutors maintained the parents should have foreseen the danger.
Both sides made their cases on March 7 in front of three Michigan Court of Appeals judges. The judges considered those arguments for 16 days before deciding Thursday (March 23) that the parents could be bound over for trial, as the lower court had initially decided.
You can view the full concurrence below.
Case against Crumbleys
In December 2021, the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office charged the Crumbleys with four counts of involuntary manslaughter -- one for each of the students killed by their son: 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana; 16-year-old Tate Myre; 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin; and 17-year-old Justin Shilling.
The prosecution accuses the parents of being grossly negligent toward their son by failing to provide proper care for him when he reported that he was having hallucinations and struggling with his mental health. Instead, the parents purchased a handgun for their son and failed to address concerns presented by school staff leading up to the shooting, prosecutors argue.
Gross negligence in Michigan means that a person willfully disregarded the results to others “that might follow from an act or failure to act,” according to the state. In this case, the Crumbley parents are accused of demonstrating a significant lack of concern about their son’s emotional state and actions and what he might do to himself or others without proper intervention from them.
Prosecutors believe the Crumbleys knew that their son posed a danger to others, and failed to provide “ordinary care” that could have prevented the mass shooting. According to prosecutors, that ordinary care could’ve included the Crumbleys taking their son home from school when called in for a meeting the morning of the shooting, or looking in his backpack during that meeting for the recently purchased gun, or storing that gun securely at their home, among other things.
Prosecutors have argued the parents neglected their son by failing to provide him with appropriate mental health care in the months before the shooting.
Court of Appeals decision
Criminal negligence in Michigan is defined as the “failure to use reasonable care with respect to a material element of an offense to avoid consequences that are the foreseeable outcome of the person’s conduct with respect to a material element of an offense and that threaten or harm the safety of another.”
“Foresee” was a key part of the decision. Whether or not the parents could have foreseen the Nov. 30, 2021, mass shooting was the largest debate in the appellate courtroom.
While listening to arguments in the courtroom, the appellate judges did not say definitively whether they believed the Crumbleys could have foreseen the mass shooting carried out by their son. At least two of the three judges did say, however, that they believe causation would be easy to prove in this case.
The legal issue of “negligence” is broken down into a few sub-categories, including “causation.” There are multiple types of causation, including factual and proximate.
Factual causation determines if the incident -- in this case, a mass shooting -- would have occurred without the action or inaction of the defendants. The judges seemed to agree that factual causation was obvious in this case, saying that it’d be easy to prove that if the parents had taken their son out of school the morning of the shooting, the Oxford shooting wouldn’t have happened.
Proximate causation determines if there is a cause behind the incident that can hold the defendant legally liable in that incident. The prosecution said that in the lower court’s hearing of the case, the court focused more on factual causation than on proximate causation.
The defense claimed there wasn’t any argument for any causation between the Crumbley parents and the Oxford shooting.
The appeals court judges considered those arguments before affirming the lower court’s decision that the parents could be bound over for trial. The appeals court could have overturned the lower court’s decision, choosing not to send the parents to trial at all.