Prosecutor uses texts to try to show mom of school shooter cared more about horses than son
Jan 26, 2024, 11:23 AM
PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — Prosecutors on Friday sought to portray the mother of a Michigan school shooter as an aloof parent more interested in horses than the mental health of her teenage son who was apparently having hallucinations months before killing four students.
Jennifer Crumbley, 45, is on trial for involuntary manslaughter, the first time parents have been charged in a U.S. mass school shooting. She and her husband are accused of contributing to the deaths at Oxford High School by neglecting their son’s needs and making a gun accessible at home.
Evidence shows Jennifer Crumbley and her husband James were riding horses and didn’t respond when Ethan Crumbley sent her text messages on March 17, 2021, saying their house was haunted.
She had told her husband earlier that day that she wanted to “get drunk and ride my horse,” according to a message displayed to the jury.
Ethan Crumbley said he was scared because “demons” were “throwing bowls.”
“Can you text back?” he asked his mother.
Three days later, when his parents again were riding horses, Ethan Crumbley messaged: “Clothes started flying off the shelf. This stuff only happens when I’m home alone.”
The prosecutor’s computer crimes expert, Ed Wagrowski, testified that the hallucinations “could have been warnings” to the parents.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Shannon Smith said there could be reasons why Jennifer Crumbley didn’t reply or even see the messages in a timely manner. She mentioned weak wireless service in the area or a belief that Ethan Crumbley was joking.
Wagrowski acknowledged some of those points.
“I don’t know what she’s thinking, no,” he said.
In April 2021, seven months before the school attack, Ethan Crumbley told a friend that he was “mentally and physically dying.” He said he asked his father to take him to a doctor but was told to “suck it up.”
Prosecutors sought to contrast the alleged neglect of her son with more detailed messages by Jennifer Crumbley about the treatment her horse, Billy, needed for a bad leg.
“Make sure you get in between the heel bulbs,” she directed.
That was a day before the school shooting. At the same time, the school was leaving a voicemail to tell her that Ethan Crumbley had been searching for ammunition on his phone, but he wasn’t in trouble. The message was played in court.
The 17-year-old was sentenced to life in prison in December after he pleaded guilty to murder, terrorism and other crimes. Ethan Crumbley was 15 at the time of the shooting.
James Crumbley faces trial on involuntary manslaughter charges in March.
Smith told jurors Thursday that the mother was “hypervigilant” about her son and shouldn’t be blamed for the deaths. Jennifer Crumbley is expected to testify in the days ahead.
Smith wants to challenge some evidence by having Ethan Crumbley or his doctors speak to the jury. But his lawyers have said he would invoke his right to remain silent and also would not waive a right to privacy with psychiatrists.
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