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July selection to begin in trial for 2nd parent in Michigan school shooting case

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The second part of an unusual case begins today when James Crumbley's trial gets underway. He is the father of that Michigan teenager who murdered four of his classmates and wounded several others in 2021. James Crumbley faces four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Last month, a jury found his wife, Jennifer Crumbley, guilty of identical charges. They said she had not done enough to stop her son's rampage at Michigan's Oxford High School. Quinn Klinefelter from member station WDET has been following the story, and he's with us now. Good morning, Quinn.

QUINN KLINEFELTER, BYLINE: Hello, Michel.

MARTIN: So, Quinn, I said this case is unusual because Jennifer Crumbley's conviction marked the first time that a parent was held criminally responsible for a school shooting. So the charges against James Crumbley are identical. Is there any way in which the trial against the father will be different?

KLINEFELTER: Well, you're right about all of that. First, let's talk about the similarities. Early on, prosecutors said that both parents should have known their son had mental health issues and should have gotten him help. They also said that instead of getting their then 15-year-old son, Ethan, help, they bought him a powerful handgun as a Christmas present, and they didn't keep it locked away. So that's likely to be an argument again. What will be different now is the argument over who's at fault for not keeping the gun locked away. In her trial, Jennifer Crumbley made a point of saying it was her husband who was supposed to keep the weapons secure. And even during closing arguments, her attorney, Shannon Smith, argued that Jennifer Crumbley didn't really have much to say so when it came to the gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHANNON SMITH: James was the parent responsible for all of the storage of the guns. She didn't object to buying the gun that James and Ethan were interested in. She didn't object to calling it Ethan's Christmas gift.

MARTIN: Well, OK, so the jury did find Jennifer Crumbley guilty, though. How are prosecutors moving forward in this case against the father, James Crumbley?

KLINEFELTER: Well, the prosecution already told the court they're going to present one of the key batches of evidence that they used against Jennifer Crumbley. That's entries from a journal that their son Ethan kept and text messages he did with a friend where he said he wanted to see a doctor, but his parents wouldn't take him. In fact, one message said his father, James, just gave him some pills and told him to suck it up.

MARTIN: So Ethan Crumbley is serving a life sentence without parole. He pleaded guilty to the shooting. He didn't testify at his mother's trial. Do we have any sense of whether he's likely to do so in this trial?

KLINEFELTER: Yeah. Probably not. Remember, one of the reasons prosecutors said they charged the Crumbleys with involuntary manslaughter is because they should have reasonably known that their son needed help, but they did nothing. James Crumbley's attorney argues that he never knew about those messages and that they should not be used as evidence anyway, because the one person who could give firsthand information about what happened, which is their son, Ethan, is refusing to testify in his parent's trials. Ethan Crumbley may appeal his life without parole sentence, and his court-appointed attorney is advising him to use his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if he's somehow forced to take the stand. And in Michigan, if an attorney calls a witness they know will take the Fifth, it's a mistrial.

MARTIN: Briefly, Quinn, the jury selection begins today. There's been so much attention, you know, on this case. Is it going to be hard to seat a jury?

KLINEFELTER: Maybe. Experts think it'll be hard to find a prospective juror who's not heard something about the case and already formed some kind of an opinion about the parents' guilt or innocence. The judge is granting the attorneys extra what's known as preemptory challenges where they can dismiss somebody, though, from the jury pool without giving any cause for it.

MARTIN: That is WDET's Quinn Klinefelter. Quinn, thank you.

KLINEFELTER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Quinn Klinefelter