Crumbley conviction: U-M law expert weighs in on Michigan school shooting case

February 6, 2024


University of Michigan professor Ekow Yankah is available to comment on the conviction of Jennifer Crumbley, the Michigan mother of the Oxford High School teen shooter convicted of killing four students.

What made this case captivating to the nation?

The case could hardly be more compelling. At its heart is the ongoing national tragedy of gun violence and school shootings. What more could hold our attention than our children being killed at school, where we think they are safe for the day. Legally speaking, there is the bedrock legal—and perhaps, moral—principle that one is not responsible for the acts of another. Pushing against that are heart stopping facts of parents who seemed to ignore every opportunity to stem that awful day.

When you first learned about the case, what were your initial thoughts?

Every law student learns in the first year that the acts of a responsible person cannot (usually) make another person responsible. Even when others do terrible things, no one else is responsible unless they are an accomplice. But the facts are so damning—the parents did not tell the school that they had bought him a gun and he might be armed—that it almost felt like the case was meant to push that legal principle to its limit.

Could these two cases set a new precedent for parents who fail to properly secure firearms from children who are the perpetrators of mass shootings?

On the one hand, cases with uniquely moving facts may be rare enough to remain exceptional. Lawyers use phrases like “a ruling that must be contained to its facts.”
But ultimately, the life of the law is precedent. The prosecutor achieved a conviction here. Other prosecutors will view it as both precedent for the next high profile example and a tool to force others similarly situated to plea to a sentence.

There is still one more trial involving the father. Now that the jury issued guilty verdicts, how will this impact his case?

The interesting thing is that they separated the cases quite late in the process. That leads to the speculation that the interests of the parents began to divide. Perhaps, there is evidence in his case he hopes the jury will find paints her as more culpable.