Life without parole sentence remains possible for Oxford HS shooter A judge rules a life sentence without parole is possible possible for the teen who shot and killed four classmates at Michigan's Oxford High School in November, 2021.

Michigan judge rules yes to possible life-without-parole sentence for teenage shooter

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A Michigan judge is set to decide tomorrow whether a high school student who killed four classmates is eligible for a sentence of life without parole. He was 15 at the time of the crime. Here's Quinn Klinefelter of WDET.

QUINN KLINEFELTER, BYLINE: The facts are clear. On the last day of November, 2021, Ethan Crumbley emerged from an Oxford high school bathroom with a handgun and methodically shot to death three classmates, most at point-blank range. He wounded seven other people, including a teacher. But the killing spree was not over. Crumbley entered a bathroom where two other students were hiding. He executed one of them, then gestured with a pistol towards the other, a sophomore named Keegan Gregory.


KEEGAN GREGORY: I ran behind his back and out the door. I think when I saw his body, I realized that if I stayed, I was going to die.

KLINEFELTER: That's from testimony Gregory gave in court a few weeks ago. It was not a trial for Crumbley. He pleaded guilty to the murders last year. It was a hearing required by the U.S. Supreme Court for any juvenile who could face life without the chance for parole so a judge can examine mitigating factors, like their age or upbringing. During the hearing, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald argued, in this case, the judge must also consider what punishment fits the cold-blooded nature of the killings. She says Crumbley's journals and recordings reveal the pleasure he took from inflicting pain.


KAREN MCDONALD: He decided in advance that he was not going to kill himself. And he researched response times to make sure that he surrendered before the police arrived. He stayed alive because he wanted to witness the suffering he created.

KLINEFELTER: Defense attorneys countered that life without parole should not even be an option in this case. They said the trauma the teen caused reflected years of neglect by his parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, who even prosecutors allege were so negligent they face charges of involuntary manslaughter. The couple bought Crumbley the gun used in the crime as a Christmas present and refused to take him home from school the day of the shootings after teachers discovered disturbing, violent drawings he'd made. Defense attorney Paulette Loftin says the Crumbleys ignored their son's pleas for mental health counseling, something she argued could make a real difference for troubled teens with young brains that are still developing.


PAULETTE LOFTIN: And that's because most of them get intervention. That's because good parents recognize when their child is circling the drain.

KLINEFELTER: Loftin also played jailhouse video showing Crumbley breaking down with apparent remorse over the killings. But those familiar with juvenile pre-sentencing hearings, like Detroit attorney Sanford Schulman, say Crumbley has not been jailed long enough to have a real record of whether he'd attempt to better himself while behind bars. Schulman says that leaves Judge Kwame Rowe with one of the most difficult decisions a court or society can face.

SANFORD SCHULMAN: It's about sentencing a child. Is that what we want to do? Do we want to give no chance for rehabilitation, throw away the key, even in the most egregious cases? But when the wound is fresh, when the event is early in time, it's harder and harder for any of us to give him a pass, give him a chance. It's just much more difficult to do it.

KLINEFELTER: Whatever the judge decides about parole, he could still hand Crumbley a life sentence. That ruling will come during a hearing in early December when survivors of the massacre and families of the victims will tell the court how the shooting has impacted their lives.

For NPR News, I'm Quinn Klinefelter in Detroit.

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