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Parents of accused Oxford school shooter seek to have case tossed

Jennifer and James Crumbley appear in court in February, charged with involuntary manslaughter after their son Ethan Crumbley allegedly killed four people at his school in November. (Paul Sancya/AP)

The parents of the alleged Oxford, Mich., school shooter want the state appeals court to throw out the criminal case against them, arguing that they never should have been charged because their son is the sole person responsible for killing four people.

Attorneys for James and Jennifer Crumbly filed a joint motion late Monday to the Michigan Court of Appeals to say prosecutors overreached by charging them with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter when they did not participate in the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School that killed four people and injured seven. Their son Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 at the time, is charged as an adult with murder and terrorism after the massacre at his school.

“If the prosecution could directly link Mr. or Mrs. Crumbley to the mass shooting, they would be prosecuted for first-degree murder as if they had directly committed the offense,” the motion read. “However, because the prosecution cannot support such a claim, they are left attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole.”

In addition to appealing their charges, the Crumbleys’ lawyers filed to bar their son’s text messages, journals and emails from evidence should their case go to trial.

Ethan Crumbley’s parents quickly came under scrutiny as reports emerged of teen using a handgun his parents had purchased for him as an early Christmas gift, four days before the shooting. Social media posts showed that Jennifer Crumbley had recently taken her son to a shooting range.

Outrage at the Crumbleys grew in and around Oxford as investigators revealed other details, alleging that the gun had been stored in an unlocked drawer of their bedroom and that a day before the fatal shooting, a teacher spotted the teenage Crumbley using his cellphone to search for information on ammunition for a gun.

Jennifer Crumbley did not respond when the school left a via voice mail about her son’s “inappropriate” search, prosecutors said. Instead, she texted her son, “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”

Neither Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald’s office nor the defendants’ attorneys are allowed to comment on the case after the presiding judge issued a gag order last week.

After Michigan school shooting, experts question what could have prevented it

But the flurry of court filings since the Crumbleys were arrested in December already made each side’s arguments clear: Prosecutors say that the Crumbleys’ behavior crossed the line of poor parenting into “gross negligence,” and that they did not secure the gun in their home and ignored chances to intervene in their son’s behavior. The defense says prosecutors are unfairly trying to make an example of parents who did not participate in their son’s alleged crime.

“It begs the question of when a parent will cross the subjective line of ‘good parenting’ and render himself or herself criminally liable for the independent acts of a teenager,” the Crumbleys’ motion read.

The defense cites a 1961 Michigan case in which a man gave his car keys to a friend he knew was drunk and the friend later crashed, killing himself and another driver. The Michigan Supreme Court ultimately reversed the defendant’s involuntary manslaughter conviction.

Why is it rare for parents of school shooting suspects to face charges? It’s ‘really hard,’ experts say.

The case against the Crumbleys has largely overshadowed the murder and terrorism case against their now-16-year-old son, who is being charged as an adult because of how unusual it is for parents or guardians of mass shooters to face charges.

“It’s really hard to show that parents have a disregard for human life, and that they could actually foresee their child doing this,” Eve Brensike Primus, a law professor at the University of Michigan who focuses on criminal procedure, told The Washington Post last year. “That’s why these charges are so rare.”

None has been criminally convicted in the United States, though victims may have better odds of seeking relief in civil court, where the standard of proof is lower. The Crumbleys are the subject of a lawsuit brought by victims’ families that includes their son, school district officials and teachers, according to the Oakland Press.

If the Michigan Court of Appeals takes no action on the motion, the couple’s case will head to trial on Oct. 24. The couple had unsuccessfully filed for a reduction in their $500,000 bond and a change of venue.