But, legal experts say, don’t expect a rush of similar cases. “I have heard many people say they think a guilty verdict in this case will open the floodgates to these kinds of prosecutions going forward,” said Eve Brensike Primus, a law professor. “To be honest, I’m not convinced that’s true.”
That’s because prosecutors had notably compelling evidence against the mother, Jennifer Crumbley – including messages and the accounts of a meeting with school officials just hours before the shooting on Nov 30, 2021 – that jurors felt proved she should have known the mental state of her son, Ethan, who was 15 at the time. “She could have told the school they (parents) had just gifted him a gun,” prosecutors said. Ethan pleaded guilty in 2022 and was sentenced to life term without the possibility of parole.
Jennifer Crumbley was convicted on four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each student her son killed. She faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, and sentencing is scheduled for April 9. Crumbley’s husband, James, 47, will be tried separately in March.
“Could more prosecutors file charges emboldened by this kind of ruling and the verdict?” Primus said. “Sure. Do I think they will be successful around the country getting charges to stick if they don’t have the requisite facts that can demonstrate real knowledge? No.”
Still, legal experts who have followed the case say the successful prosecution of Jennifer Crumbley, 45, provides a template for prosecutors nationwide to pursue similar cases. “This case will certainly make prosecutors look at their work a little differently when it comes to parents who are neglectful, in terms of how they handle weapons around the home, making weapons available for their kids,” said George Gascon, the district attorney of Los Angeles.
The issue of parental responsibility for the crimes of children is one Gascon has considered before, with a recent case involving a minor charged with vehicular manslaughter. “I felt very strongly about going after the father,” he said. “Eventually I was advised against it.”
After mass shootings by teens and young adults, scrutiny often falls on parents, as much to weigh the specific circumstances of the crime as to learn something that could prevent that next shooting somewhere in America. But some experts worry the case will become a way for prosecutors to force plea deals from parents.