A teenager who killed four students in 2021 at a school in Michigan is eligible for life imprisonment without any chance of parole, ruled Judge Kwamé Rowe on Friday during a hearing that featured an intense debate over the punitive action and the defendant's mental health.
Ethan Crumbley, then 15 years old, shot and killed four of his fellow students at Oxford High School in Michigan in 2021. Defense lawyers mentioned his deteriorating mental health as a result of negligence by his parents, causing him to keep a gun in his backpack. He reportedly kept a journal in which he wrote about his desire to see students suffer and contemplated his chances of imprisonment.
Crumbley shot dead Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana and Justin Shilling at Oxford High on November 30, 2021, and injured seven others. In October last year, the shooter, now 17, pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism and murder.
His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, were also arrested and accused of giving their son easy access to a firearm. However, they have pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and appealed that they should not be held responsible for their son's murderous actions. They have also been accused of ignoring his mental health.
Chances of Crumbley's rehabilitation 'slim'
In Friday's hearing, Rowe observed, "This crime is not the result of impetuosity or recklessness. Nor does the crime reflect the hallmarks of youth. Defendant carefully and meticulously planned and carried out the shooting."
Since the shooter was a teenager, there are two ways his sentence can go - either a life imprisonment or a shorter term of minimum 25 to 40 years with a chance of freedom. However, Rowe noted that chances of rehabilitation for Crumbley were 'slim'.
The judge also said that Crumbley had downloaded a school map, figured out the likely police response time to a shooting, and researched where Michigan teens are placed in prison. One of the prosecutors, Karen McDonald, said that she hopes the ruling "brings some comfort" to the Oxford community.
Crumbley and his defense team listened to the decision while in the county jail. His lawyers have not responded to the ruling. However, Rowe's decision is not final, as the final hearing on Crumbley's sentence will take place in December.
On Crumbley being described as a "feral child", Rowe disagreed and said, "His general home life, while not ideal, was also not terrible. Despite his parents’ shortcomings, the defendant appeared to have a loving and supportive family. ... In the defendant’s own words, his childhood was good."
According to Rowe, the shooter still continues to be obsessed with violence that he cannot stop even as he is imprisoned. Crumbley also allegedly accessed violent content on an electronic device during his incarceration, violating the rules of a prison.
(with AP inputs)