Jennifer Crumbley trial: Prosecutor says negligence led to Oxford High School shooting, not bad parenting

Jennifer Crumbley's trial started Thursday for the Oxford High School shooting after she was charged with four cases of involuntary manslaughter.

More than two years since a 15-year-old pulled a 9 mm and killed four students inside Oxford High School, the trial of his mother for involuntary manslaughter is underway – an unprecedented trial in connection to a high school shooting.

After two days of jury selection, opening statements were held in Judge Cheryl Matthews' courtroom in Pontiac, Michigan, in the trial of Jennifer Crumbley.

Matthews read instructions to the jury before Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Marc Keast delivered his 12-minute opening statement to the jury. Opening statements are not evidence – but are a chance for the prosecution and defense to lay out their planned argument for the case.

RELATED: Jennifer Crumbley's attorney: Oxford shooter's mom was hyper-vigilant, will testify

Keast started by introducing the four victims of the shooting – Hana St. Julian, Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, and Justin Shilling – whose lives were tragically cut short by Jennifer's 15-year-old son.

"Jennifer Crumbley didn't pull the trigger that day, but she is responsible for those deaths," Keast told the jury. "These kids were gunned down inside Oxford High School with this gun. It's a SIG Sauer, 9 mm handgun, purchased four days before the shooting by James Crumbley, Jennifer's husband and father of the school shooter." 

Keast went on to say that Jennifer celebrated the purchase on Instagram: 

"These are her words and this is her post. "Mom and son day, testing out. his new Christmas present. My first time shooting a 9MM, I hit the bullseye," he said.

Beyond that, Keast said that the shooter was in a downward spiral for months before the shooting and that Jennifer was aware of his ‘deteriorating mental crisis’ but the gun was given to a 15-year-old anyway, despite it being illegal for him to own one.

"You will also learn that despite all of that background, this firearm was not secured in a way to prevent her son from gaining access to it. The evidence will also prove to you that even with all of that, on November the 30th, Jennifer Crumbley was still given the opportunity to prevent these murders from ever happening. Instead, she chose to do nothing," Keast said.

The argument that the Crumbley parents neglected to help support their son prior to the shooting has been widely expected to be the argument by the prosecution. Keast walked the jury through the day of the shooting when the Crumbley parents were called to a meeting about their son, yet didn't take him out of school.

"Yet despite their private concerns, the evidence presented in this trial will show to you that that meeting at the school was nothing like that. School counselors or the dean of students who sat in at a meeting had never experienced before. Those two individuals, even with their limited knowledge of that drawing, had expected the defendant or her husband to take their son home and set an appointment with a mental health professional. But they didn't. You see, you'll learn that these kinds of meetings, when they occur with parents, can last an hour longer. This one was abruptly ended by Jennifer Crumbley after just over 11 minutes, and then she left," Keast said. 

The drawings surfaced in December 2021, just two weeks after the shooting. Keast said when most people see the drawings, they immediately alarmed them – even strangers to the Crumbleys. But not the parents.

"The two people in the world with all of the information, all the background to put this drawing into context were James and Jennifer Crumbley. And you will learn that in that meeting they didn't share any of it. They didn't say anything about the fact that that firearm was identical to the Sig Sauer 9MM," he said. "One thing will present itself during this trial and just how senseless November 30th was, and that's because of all of the easy, ordinary things for someone to do that nobody did."

Keast said the prosecution plans to call 20 to 25 witnesses and present 400 exhibits for evidence and they'll get ‘a view into the life of the Crumbley family in the days, weeks, and months before the shooting'. But they’ll also present evidence about how the Crumbley parents responded to the shooting.

Jennifer Crumbley in court during her trial on Jan. 25, 2024.

"You're going to see a pattern emerge in Jennifer Crumbley after the shooting on November 30th. That pattern will include showing you that she immediately began to downplay and downright lie about her level of knowledge of her son and that weapon and that drawing on November the 30th. This pattern will continue up until the time that she and her husband are found hiding from the police in Detroit," he said.

Honing in on Crumbley's response to the shooting, Keast said her instincts were not to be honest but to run. He ja

"This pattern will show you that her first instinct was to lie. Her second was to run. Now the evidence will show you that she didn't pull the trigger, but she's responsible," Keast said.

He then said that he knows that she didn't give the gun and that she's not accused of encouraging the shooting, but the charges are due to negligence.

"But there is no claim that she gifted that firearm to her son, knowing he was going to commit the attack. There's no claim that she wanted him to commit the attack. So how can she be held responsible when her son pulled the trigger? And the answer is she's not charged with murder. She's charged with involuntary manslaughter. You see, murder is it's an intentional killing. Involuntary manslaughter, by definition, is unintentional. It's rooted in negligence," Keast said. "You're going to learn that involuntary manslaughter is committed when someone's acts or their failure to out or they're failures to perform their legal duty or grossly negligent. And that gross negligence was a cause of death. A cause of death, not the cause of death."

Crumbley is not on trial for murder – but four charges of involuntary manslaughter. Keast said when somebody else was a cause of death, the person who was ‘grossly negligent can and still will be held responsible’.

"That is, if the person who pulled the trigger, if the shooter in this case, his act was reasonably foreseeable to the defendant, to the defendant specific to her, not to everybody else in the world, Not to a stranger. Not to a teacher, but to his mother. One of the two people in the world who raised him, who lived with them for 15 years. One of the two people in the world who had all the information necessary to put that drawing into context," Keast said.

Keast finished his statement by saying that Crumbley is not on trial for being a bad parent, neither are gun owners, or the school's inability to search a backpack. Instead, he said she's on trial for her negligence that could have prevented the tragedy.

"Gross negligence is when you could use ordinary care, just ordinary care to avoid an unknown danger. And you don't, even though it is apparent that serious injury could occur. And that's what this case is about. It's about Jennifer Crumbley's willful disregard of the danger that she knew all. That's why we're here. We're not here to talk about good parenting or bad parenting. It's not illegal to be a bad parent. We're not here to put restrictions on gun owners. That's not our job. That's not your job. That's for lawmakers. We're not here to talk about who else might be culpable or who else you think shares some blame."