Will the Father of a School Shooter Be Found Guilty of Manslaughter in Unique Trial?

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Last month, a Michigan jury issued a precedent-setting verdict against the mother of a school shooter. Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each victim of her son’s shooting rampage at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, in November 2021.

The shooter’s father, James Crumbley, is now standing trial before the same judge and also facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

On Tuesday’s show, Megyn was joined by attorneys Jonna Spilbor and David Wohl for a Kelly’s Court to discuss the unique case and potential outcome.

[Editor’s Note: Megyn and The Megyn Kelly Show have a policy of not naming mass shooters.]

Jennifer Crumbley’s Conviction

It took a Michigan jury roughly 11 hours to find Jennifer guilty of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the school shooting carried out by her then-15-year-old son that left four students dead and seven other people wounded. Late last year, the Crumbleys’ son was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to 24 charges, including first-degree premeditated murder.

Prosecutors in Jennifer’s case argued the parents – who purchased their son the gun used in the shooting – failed to adequately respond to warning signs displayed by the shooter in the lead up to the incident. The jury foreperson told an ABC News producer that the verdict ultimately “came down to the fact that Jennifer was the last adult with the gun.” 

While there have been other instances of parents being charged for a shooting carried out by their children, this judgment was considered the first of its kind for a mass shooting in a school. At the time, Megyn said the “novel” verdict in many ways marks “a new chapter in accountability for mass shootings.”

Sentencing is scheduled for April 9, and Jennifer faces up to 60 years in prison. In the meantime, James is getting his day in court.

The Case Against James Crumbley

Jury selection for James’ trial began on March 5, and the trial got underway last Thursday. His defense team had argued that he could not get a fair trial in Oakland County following Jennifer’s trial, but Judge Cheryl Matthews denied the request. 

Megyn said there is a lot of overlap between the trials. “The case against the father seems to center around the fact that, like the mother, he was allegedly a negligent parent, didn’t give sh-t that his son was… not well mentally… and did nothing about it,” she explained. “And in his case… I think the best evidence is he bought him a gun four days before the shooting and then when the school called him up to say we found some very disturbing drawings, he didn’t say, ‘Oh sh-t, I just bought him a gun. We should get him out of here and get him to help.'”

Last week, prosecutors argued that James could have taken his son home following a meeting with administrators at the school on the morning of the shooting due to his flexible work schedule as a DoorDash driver. “And the prosecution is essentially saying also that it was a straw purchase of the gun, meaning that you can’t buy a gun intending to hand it directly over to somebody who is not the purchaser,” Wohl noted. 

It is a case of “criminal negligence,” Wohl said, because “he handed [the gun] over to his son three days after purchase saying that it was a gift, but he was aware of the psychological problems that his son had at the time.”

While Wohl said he expects James to be convicted but believes he should receive a short sentence because he does not suspect “either parent ever conceived of a possibility that this type of horrific outcome would have happened based on… the way they parented their child or, in the father’s case, the way he gifted the firearm,” Megyn said prosecutors may have evidence to the contrary.

James made a 911 call after hearing the news of the shooting and realizing that the gun he purchased for his son was missing from their home. In the audio, he identified his son as the suspected shooter, despite that information not being made public by authorities at the time. “That’s pretty good evidence for the prosecutor that he did foresee his son is the shooter,” Megyn noted.

The Defense

Even so, Spilbor noted there is “contradictory evidence” in this case. “The guidance counselor… testified that they did not believe this kind of thing was going to happen,” she explained. “So, the defense is basically saying, ‘Well, if a trained counselor isn’t viewing this as an imminent threat… then how can we also say that the parents should have seen it the same way?'”

Additionally, Spilbor said the testimony from Jennifer that she was the last adult who touched the gun could benefit James. “Is that going to be enough… I don’t know,” she said. “This case stinks all the way around, from the school to the parents and, obviously, to the shooter himself.”

Ultimately, she said it is a “tough” trial due to its historic nature. “I don’t like it because it is unprecedented to charge parents for this kind of crime,” Spilbor concluded. “But I guess we’re there as a society.”

You can check out Megyn’s full interview with Spilbor and Wohl by tuning in to episode 744 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.