PONTIAC, Mich .– It was an instinctive, swift judgment, said prosecutor Karen D. McDonald of her decision to charge Ethan Crumbley’s parents with manslaughter in the shooting deaths of four college students. Oxford High School secondary school on the outskirts of Detroit.
“I instinctively knew there was absolutely no way I couldn’t go after them when I heard all the evidence,” Ms. McDonald said in an interview.
Ms McDonald pointed out what she said was the freezing cold before the November 30 massacre: how James and Jennifer Crumbley bought their son a 9mm handgun as a Christmas present in advance and then didn’t did not speak to school officials even after calling parents to a meeting because a teacher saw their son’s drawing of a gun, a victim and the plea, “Thoughts don’t stop not. Help me please.”
Her decision came over the reluctance of some of her staff in the Oakland County District Attorney’s Office, she said. They cited significant legal hurdles and suggested she wait, fearing defeat in court.
But, Ms. McDonald said, she’s not afraid of losing.
“It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “And if the jury decides they’re not criminally guilty, I can live with that.” Defense lawyers for the couple said a more complete picture, one that absolves parents, will emerge.
Ms McDonald said she had no plans to break new ground legally – accusing the parents of a minor in a mass shooting is highly unusual – but she now sees the case as potentially part of something bigger, a new frontline effort to promote responsible gun ownership. . She calls it “a whole new way of approaching school shootings,” which she hopes can help correct past failures of the system to deter murders.
The Oxford case has catapulted Ms McDonald, 51, from an obscure prosecutor in her first year on the job to a national figure, who frequently appears in news programs to advocate for tighter oversight of fire arms.
His decision to sue the Crumbleys echoed with victims, including Michele Gay, who lost his youngest daughter, Josephine, in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which killed 26 children. and adults.
“We have to put everything on the table every time, painful as it may be, and look at all the possibilities that would have mitigated that, stopped that,” said Ms Gay, who founded the Safe and Sound Schools organization after the death of her daughter in 2012.
Ms McDonald may well emerge as a political force in Michigan, says Richard Czuba, a political pollster in Lansing, Michigan.
“It’s certainly a name,” said Czuba, who said his response to the gunfire “struck a chord in households with children.”
He is considering Ms McDonald as a potential successor to Dana Nessel, the state attorney general, when Ms Nessel’s second term ends at the end of 2026.
But it’s a life or two in politics, and Ms McDonald must first prove that her legal strategies can work, including her unusual decision to charge Ethan Crumbley not only with first degree murder but also with terrorism causing the dead.
During the interview at the sprawling government complex in Oakland County, Michigan, the state’s second largest county, Ms McDonald said she intended to appear in court as part of the County prosecution team when the couple go to trial. The Crumbleys, who each face up to 60 years in prison, and their son, who faces life in prison, have pleaded not guilty.
Earlier today, in which a funeral was held for the youngest victim, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, Ms McDonald visited the crime scene at Oxford High School.
The scene, Ms McDonald said, revealed “calculated horrific behavior”, describing how one of the four victims was killed in a bathroom. Seven other people were injured, including a teacher.
The case against the parents will depend on the ability of prosecutors to prove that the parents were “not only aware that their son was upset, but aware that he would or could do this – shoot this school,” said Eve Brensike Primus , professor in the law school of the University of Michigan. “It requires a level of mental guilt which is more difficult for a prosecutor to prove.”
While parents have previously been charged with manslaughter in connection with the shooting of children, cases typically involve very young children who pick up a parent’s unsecured weapon and accidentally kill someone.
Ms McDonald said she was not aware of any such case against the parents of a mass gunman, although the guns used in school shootings often came from family members.
Ms McDonald, a Democrat, said she received support for her decision even from Republican gun owners, some of whom wrote her letters.
“A lot of gun owners say, ‘Absolutely, if you don’t store your gun safely, if you’re not responsible for it, you should be held accountable,” she said. think it goes so much beyond politics if we are parents. “
Ms McDonald said she was not thinking of a higher post, but her TV appearances had already come under criticism.
Michael Bouchard, the Oakland County Sheriff, suggested Ms McDonald acted prematurely in publicizing the charges against the Crumbleys – even before her office was informed – giving the parents time to get away. The FBI and US Marshals team of fugitives were called in and apprehended the couple early the next morning at a warehouse in Detroit.
Ms McDonald, who said she gave the sheriff’s office sufficient warning of the charges, said she worked things out with Mr Bouchard, the only Republican to hold a senior elected office in Oakland County, where the Democrats have dominated in recent years.
In a statement released Friday, Mr. Bouchard referred to a “disconnect” between senior prosecutors and investigators which has been resolved. But Rocky Raczkowski, the Republican President of Oakland County, said that by announcing the charges against the parents before their arrest, Ms McDonald had caused confusion.
“It becomes a soap opera, the risk of parental absconding,” said Raczkowski, “instead of functioning properly like a well-oiled machine. It took away the story of grief, it cost money, it took police resources, but also most importantly, it took attention away from what was wrong, from what was right.
Originally from Michigan and a former teacher who went on to become a lawyer and then assistant prosecutor before being elected a presiding judge in juvenile cases, Ms. McDonald now runs an office of more than 150 employees – all wearing black ribbons in honor of the dead and injured. .
As a parent, Ms McDonald said she takes gun violence personally. She and her 11-year husband Jeffrey Weiss, a lawyer who prefers to stay behind the scenes, have a blended family of five children. The youngest is in his second year at university.
Her decisions in the Crumbley case suggest a strict approach to law enforcement, but during her campaign for the prosecutor she has focused on prosecution reform, riding the progressive wave after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. His list of sponsors included Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
After defeating longtime Democratic president Jessica Cooper by a wide margin and taking office in January, Ms McDonald had spent much of the year implementing changes in the office, including adopting alternatives to incarceration and starting data collection to detect racial disparities in prosecution.
And although she accused Ethan Crumbley as an adult, she had pushed her campaign to treat “children like children”, holding them “accountable without unnecessary jail.” In office, she reviewed 27 cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole and gave 22 of them the chance to be punished, eventually leaving them eligible for parole.
Perhaps his most high-profile endeavor, until the recent carnage, involved an internal review of a 20-year-old arson case in which five children were killed.
Ms McDonald reopened the case at the urging of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.
Imran J. Syed, co-director of the clinic, said his office had struggled to prove the accused’s innocence for more than a decade, but Ms McDonald’s predecessor was not interested in examining the circumstances. .
Ms. McDonald “has uncovered a mountain of evidence of internal misconduct,” said Mr. Syed.
His opinion found that prison informants who testified against the accused received significant benefits in return – a fact that was not disclosed to defense attorneys at the time. His office also uncovered video of a child witness implicating another person in the crime, which was also not disclosed.
As a result of this work, Juwan Deering, 50, was released this year after 15 years behind bars. Ms McDonald is planning a review of other old lawsuits, she said.
Criminal justice officials need to let go of a “win at any cost” mentality, she said, adding: “It’s difficult, but it’s always the right thing to do.”
Giulia Heyward contributed reports.