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A negligent parent or an unforeseeable crime? Trial nears end for Michigan school shooter's mother

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) -Prosecutors told a jury that the mother of a Michigan boy who shot dead four classmates in 2021 should be found guilty of manslaughter, arguing on Friday that she and her husband were negligent in buying their son a handgun after he had shown signs of mental distress.

Jennifer Crumbley, 45, has testified that she was not responsible for buying or storing the gun used in the murders by her son, Ethan. Her trial is believed to be the first to attempt to find a parent of a school shooter also to be criminally responsible for the deaths of their child's victims.

"It's a rare case," Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald told jurors during closing arguments at the district court in Pontiac. "It takes some really egregious facts. It takes the unthinkable. And she (Crumbley) has done the unthinkable."

Judge Cheryl Matthews told jurors they would begin deliberations in the case on Monday morning.

Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty in 2022 to two dozen counts, including four of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole in December.

Crumbley and her husband, James Crumbley, were each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, with prosecutors saying they did not properly secure the guns in their home. James Crumbley, 47, is set to be tried separately next month.

Shannon Smith, the lawyer representing Jennifer Crumbley, urged jurors during her closing argument to find the defendant not guilty because her son's crimes were "unforeseeable."

"No one expected this, no one could have expected this, including Mrs. Crumbley," Smith told jurors, calling it an "alarming" case for parents everywhere.

"Can every parent really be responsible for everything that their children do?" Smith asked.

Prosecutor McDonald reminded jurors of the evidence they had seen showing Crumbley confiding to others that she worried about her son's mental health, and how she repeatedly took him to a shooting range for target practice.

"We actually saw the last day he was practicing to kill four of his classmates, and there was only one person with him that day, ladies and gentleman: Jennifer Crumbley," McDonald said, referring to video that was played to jurors.

Jennifer Crumbley described the 9mm handgun her husband bought for their son four days before the shooting as her son's Christmas present, and she "bragged about it on social media" before the shooting, McDonald told the jury.

But Smith noted that it was not unusual for parents to take children to a shooting range in a community where hunting is a popular family pursuit.

Crumbley testified in her own defense on Thursday and returned to the stand on Friday morning for cross examination by a prosecutor. She was questioned about Facebook chat messages in which she appeared to complain about the trustworthiness of her husband, who she said was responsible for buying and securing the gun.

"You didn't trust him to get out of bed on time?" Marc Keast, an Oakland County prosecutor, asked Crumbley about her husband.

"Correct," she replied.

She also agreed that she did not trust her husband to do a good job of cutting the grass or turning on their home's security camera.

"But this is the person you entrusted with a deadly weapon?" Keast asked.

"I did," Crumbley replied.

In Michigan, children under 18 are allowed to have a gun only when hunting or doing target-practice at a shooting range with an adult, and other limited circumstances.

Smith spent time in her closing words to the jury saying she recognized herself in Crumbley, describing how she bickers with her own husband and worries about and gets frustrated with their teenage children.

"I am asking that you find Jennifer Crumbley not guilty, not just for Jennifer Crumbley, but for every mother who's doing the best they can who could easily be in her shoes," Smith said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Donna Bryson, Will Dunham and Bill Berkrot)