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Judge: Prosecutors in Crumbley parent case may not use ‘pathway to violence’ theory

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In a boost for the defense, a judge has ruled that prosecutors cannot argue to the jury that James and Jennifer Crumbley put their son on a pathway to violence that led to his killing four students and injuring seven others a year ago at Oxford High School.

Prosecutors had sought to argue the pathway to violence theory through two mass shooting experts, who previously testified that school shooters don’t just “snap,” and that their actions can be thwarted through early intervention.

But Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews concluded the experts’ research was not reliable or relevant to the Crumbleys’ case.

“Most paramount to this conclusion is the fact that experts admitted that they cannot predict what actions or inactions would stop a school shooting,” Matthews wrote in her 16-page opinion.

“Therefore, the court is compelled to question whether the testimony is relevant or reliable.”

“Further, it is confusing and misleading to present the theory to jurors when the experts cannot say with any certainty whether any action or inaction by the (parents) in this case would have changed the outcome.”

More:Crumbleys’ novel case to test theory: Are all school shootings preventable?

More:Parents of Oxford school shooter Ethan Crumbley: We never thought our son needed therapy

Jennifer Crumbley, second from left, and James Crumbley, right, in a pretrial hearing April 19, 2022.

Jennifer Crumbley, second from left, and James Crumbley, right, in a pretrial hearing April 19, 2022.

The case against Ethan Crumbley’s parents

Prosecutors allege that the Crumbleys were the only people who could have prevented the shooting that was carried out by their son, but failed to do so.

Specifically, they allege that the parents put their son on a pathway to violence by ignoring his mental health needs, and instead of getting him help they bought him a gun — the same one he used in the shooting.

Prosecutors argue that the Crumbleys could have prevented the massacre had they told school officials about the gun. On the morning of the shooting, the parents were summoned to the school over their son’s troubling behavior. He had drawn a picture of a gun, blood and the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” But instead of telling the school they had bought him a gun, the parents insisted he be returned to class — which he was.

How experts believe school shootings can be averted

Mass shooting experts argue that school shooters provide “leakage” — or signs — that they are going to engage in violence. And if someone is paying attention and intervenes when those red flags go up, they maintain, a school shooting can be stopped.

That’s what prosecutors allege happened in the case of Ethan Crumbley, who, among other things, texted his friend and mom about hallucinations, demons and hearing voices.

But the judge noted that the mass shooting experts had no data on how many mass shootings had been thwarted by intervention. Moreover, she concluded, jurors don’t need experts to figure out whether the Crumbleys engaged in gross negligence, or ignored or missed red flags from their son. They can figure that out for themselves.

The Crumbleys are charged with involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors allege they are responsible for the deaths of the four students killed in the Nov. 30 massacre. Their trial is scheduled for January.

Their son, Ethan, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and terrorism charges last month. Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Contact Tresa Baldas: [email protected]

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Prosecutors may not use ‘pathway to violence’ theory against Crumbleys

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