(Reuters) – Lawyers were to make opening statements on Thursday in the trial of a Michigan woman whose teenage son used a gun she and her husband allegedly gave him as a Christmas present to kill four schoolmates.
Twelve jurors and five alternates were empanelled in Pontiac, Michigan, Wednesday afternoon, the court said, to hear a rare trial of a parent facing criminal charges in a school shooting.
Jennifer Crumbley, 45, and her 47-year-old husband James Crumbley, who will be tried separately next month, are each charged with four counts of manslaughter.
Their son, Ethan, who was 15 at the time of the 2021 shooting at Oxford High School near Detroit, pleaded guilty in 2022 to two dozen counts, including four of first-degree murder, and last month was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In the past, Jennifer Crumbley’s attorneys have said she could not have anticipated her son would carry out a school shooting, and that the weapon had been safely secured in the home.
She has asked Sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Matthews to force her son to testify, according to documents filed this week with the Pontiac, Michigan, court by her attorney Shannon Smith.
Public defenders representing Ethan Crumbley as he appeals his life sentence are fighting any order that would compel him to testify, and say they will advise him to invoke his right to remain silent if he is called.
Gun safety experts have said they hope the Crumbley trials serve as a wake-up call for parents around the country to better secure weapons in their homes. About 75% of school shooters obtained the guns they used in attacks within their own homes, government research has shown.
Experts have said the parents’ trials break new legal ground.
Prosecutors say James Crumbley purchased the 9mm handgun used in the Oxford High attack four days before his son carried it out on Nov. 30, 2021.
On the morning of the shooting, a teacher discovered drawings by Ethan Crumbley that depicted a handgun, a bullet, and a bleeding figure next to the words “Blood everywhere,” “My life is useless,” and “The thoughts won’t stop – help me.”
The Crumbleys were called to the school on the morning of the shooting, and told that Ethan urgently needed counseling and they needed to take him home, prosecutors have said. The parents resisted the idea of taking their son home and did not search his backpack nor ask him about the gun.
Ethan Crumbley was returned to class and later walked out of a bathroom with the gun and began firing, prosecutors say.