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Jennifer Crumbley trial: Prosecution rests case after attempting to portray her as the school shooter's neglectful mother

Crumbley is on trial on four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of four students at Oxford High School in Michigan in 2021 at the hands of her son, Ethan Crumbley.
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PONTIAC, Mich. — Prosecutors in the trial of Jennifer Crumbley rested their case Thursday after a week of intense testimony from more than 20 witnesses, and text message and police video evidence — intended to show that the Michigan woman knew of her teenage son's mental state and access to a gun and yet neglected to act on the day he committed a mass shooting in 2021.

Crumbley's involuntary manslaughter trial is a rare case of charges being brought against the parent of a school shooter.

Earlier Thursday, the jury heard excerpts from Ethan Crumbley's journals in which he wrote, "My parents won't listen to me about help or a therapist," expressed his desire to "shoot up" his school and said he was going to get a 9 mm pistol, which his parents would help the then-15-year-old buy days before the shooting.

Crumbley, 45, later put her head down and sobbed as school surveillance video of the shooting was played for jurors. Oakland County Sheriff's Office Detective Lt. Tim Willis, who investigated the shooting, was in tears on the stand as he explained what was shown.

During cross-examination, Willis agreed that investigators had no evidence that Crumbley had known about her son's journals.

Ethan Crumbley would go on to kill four students and injure several others at Oxford High School. He pleaded guilty as an adult to murder, terrorism and other crimes, and was sentenced in December to life in prison without parole. His new legal team had suggested the possibility of appealing the sentence, and Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Matthews reiterated Thursday that he does not have to testify for the defense after his lawyers said he would refuse to answer questions on the stand.

The prosecution has tried to portray Crumbley, 45, as a neglectful mother who was aware of her son's mental health issues and failed to intervene, while giving him access to firearms and caring more about her horses than his well-being. The defense has highlighted exchanges attempting to show she did care for him, and suggested that she didn't know about the true severity of her son's deteriorating mental health, shifting blame toward her husband, James Crumbley, and the school.

James Crumbley, 47, faces a separate trial slated to begin in March on the same involuntary manslaughter charges.

So far, the mother's trial has tugged on the emotions of those in the courtroom, from the defendant to witnesses to victims' parents in attendance to even the lawyers. The prosecution and the defense have frequently interrupted each other and they ended court Friday shouting in the absence of the jury, after the prosecution accused defense attorney Shannon Smith of making an inappropriate joke.

The judge ended court by cutting both sides off. "Whoa, everybody needs to go home," Matthews said.

The prosecution maintains that Crumbley acted in a "grossly negligent" manner to cause the deaths of Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17.

The charges revolve around whether the mother failed to store the firearm in a way that would have prevented her son from gaining access to the gun and ammunition, and whether she failed to perform a legal duty to the students who were killed by neglecting to exercise "reasonable care" and stop her son from committing the shooting.

When instructing the jury, the judge said they do not all need to agree on both the prosecution's theories, as long as all jurors believe Crumbley is guilty of at least one of them. The jurors are tasked with evaluating more than 400 pieces of evidence, and many took notes as the prosecution showed text messages and photos to bolster its case.

Early on, jurors saw photos on Crumbley's phone of both her and her husband riding their horses in March 2021. A computer crimes expert testified that they were taken at the same time that their son was texting his mother about seeing demons in their house, writing "the house is haunted" and asking her, "Can you at least text back?"

Crumbley did not write back, according to the message thread, but dialed her son 90 minutes after he texted in a call that lasted 19 seconds.

Kira Pennock, the Crumbleys' horse caretaker, testified Monday that Crumbley did not often mention her son while she was riding but would sometimes say she was having problems with him or that he was acting weird, even referring to him as an "oopsie baby."

Pennock later testified that Crumbley had sent her a picture of her son's math homework with the drawing of a gun on it, and once she learned of the school shooting, "My first thought was that I knew who the shooter was" based on the drawing she had seen.

The defense suggested that Pennock's gut feeling came from "looking backwards and connecting the dots," but that there was no way to have known that Ethan Crumbley would open fire Nov. 30, 2021.

The defense has emphasized that texts found on Crumbley's phone suggest that she cared about her son, writing to her husband and a mother of her son's friend that she was worried. In one exchange, she wrote: "He's upset and I don't want him doing anything stupid, goddammit."   

In the hours after the shooting, Crumbley was seen on video telling a police officer in the back of a squad car, "I never would have thought he had mental issues ... I don't get it, I don't get what happened." And in the days after the shooting, Crumbley messaged Brian Meloche, a man she was having an extramarital affair with, "I still can't even figure out where his brain snapped."

Meloche testified Wednesday that Crumbley never complained to him about mental health issues that her son may have had.

But on the day of the shooting, when she and her husband were summoned that morning to Oxford High School because of Ethan Crumbley's drawing of the gun discovered by a teacher, Meloche said, Crumbley relayed her concerns. She "was worried he was going to do something dumb," he testified.

Meloche said he also asked Crumbley where the gun was, because "if something was going to occur, it would produce immediate irreparable damage."

Much of the testimony and evidence has centered on the day of the shooting as the defense tried to deflect blame from Crumbley to the school.

School surveillance video showed that James and Jennifer Crumbley were at a counselor's office for less than 15 minutes to discuss their son's gun drawing. After the meeting, Crumbley texted about scheduling a horse lesson before texting her son: "You know you can talk to us, you know we wont judge," according to evidence in court.

Shawn Hopkins, a school counselor, testified Monday that he was "caught off guard" when the Crumbleys declined to take their son home following the meeting because they had to go back to work. Ethan Crumbley would go on to carry out the shooting that afternoon.

School officials also testified that if the parents had informed them that their son had access to a gun, they would have been more authoritative to ensure immediate safety.

Jurors were shown video of the Crumbleys meeting their son after he was arrested by police. The shooter's mother could be heard repeatedly asking him, "Why?" and his father saying, "I love you."

The defense has tried early on, unsuccessfully, to block several text exchanges without having the shooter or his psychiatrists testify to add context. Throughout the trial, the defense has asked the judge to admit multiple pieces of evidence that she had originally ruled to omit, including texts suggesting Crumbley's alcohol use and testimony about her extramarital affair.

Smith has also asked the judge to allow more than 2,000 pages of unredacted Facebook messages — the entire exchange between James and Jennifer Crumbley starting in January 2021 — to be admitted to give the jury more information, instead of the "slivers of evidence" that she has accused the prosecution of providing.

Selina Guevara reported from Pontiac and Erik Ortiz from New York.