Judge: Crimes of Oxford school shooter Ethan Crumbley qualify for life without parole

Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley is eligible for a life-without-parole sentence as a judge ruled Friday that the prosecution met its burden in seeking the stiffest punishment possible for the teenager who murdered four students and injured seven others in the northern Oakland County school in 2021.

However, that doesn't mean Crumbley will for sure spend the rest of his life behind bars, as Oakland County Circuit Judge Kwame Rowe could still give him a more lenient punishment when he sentences him in December. The victims' families and many others will testify at that hearing. Crumbley, who was 15 at the time of the shooting, will either spend the rest of his life in prison, or a minimum of 25 to 40 years and a maximum of 60 years.

In ruling in favor of the prosecution Friday, Rowe concluded that Crumbley "carefully and meticulously planned and carried out the shooting," knew he could have stopped his actions at any time but chose not to, and sought to stay alive and surrender so that he could witness the suffering.

"This was not an impulsive decision, nor was he peer-pressured," Rowe said. "He methodically walked through the school and decided who would live or die."

After the ruling, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said: “I commend the teachers and students who testified about what happened at Oxford High School that day, and I hope the result today brings the victims, their families and the Oxford community some comfort.”

According to the prosecutor's office, the Oxford case marks the first time that a defendant has been charged with and convicted of terrorism resulting from a mass shooting.

Crumbley's lawyer, Paulette Loftin, was not readily available for comment, though has long argued that Crumbley is too young to spend the rest of his life in prison and deserves a chance to prove himself rehabilitated and earn his freedom one day.

Judge: Mental illness not a factor

Rowe also discussed perhaps one of the most controversial issues raised in this case: whether Crumbley is mentally ill or not.

Watch the livestream replay here:

Experts for the defense said he is mentally ill, but those for the prosecution said he was not.

"The defendant may have had mental illness," Rowe said. "But that doesn’t make it a mitigating factor … he methodically killed several individuals. … It was not impulsive or impetuous. He appreciated the risks and consequences of his actions. He even wrote … 'I’m probably going to spend the rest of my life in prison. I hope I can talk to someone though' … he knew the full outcome of his actions."

Rowe also concluded that Crumbley was mature for his age.

“Prior to the shooting, the defendant appeared as mature, if not more mature, than other kids his age,” Rowe said, noting Crumbley had a job at 14, talked about joining the military in the future, and went to shooting ranges with his mom and taught her how to use a gun.

“He thought in depth about his future and his career. He was able to convince his parents to buy him two guns,” Rowe said. “His thoughts, statements and actions do not align with the hallmark immaturity of youth.”

Rowe also cited Crumbley's videotaped manifesto he made on the eve of the shooting, and numerous excerpt's from the shooter's journal, in which he penned, “The first victim had to be a pretty girl with a future.” He also noted how Crumbley concluded his journal entry with this final expert: "I’m sorry mom and dad ... I have to do this.”

Ethan Crumbley appears in court, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, in Pontiac, Mich. The Oakland County Prosecutors are making their case that Crumbley, a teenager, should be sentenced to life without parole for killing four students at Oxford High School in 2021.
Ethan Crumbley appears in court, on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, in Pontiac, Mich. The Oakland County Prosecutors are making their case that Crumbley, a teenager, should be sentenced to life without parole for killing four students at Oxford High School in 2021.

“Not only did he plan every action," Rowe said, "but he followed through.”

Judge: Crumbley's parents 'neglected him'

As for Crumbley's childhood and home life, the judge found that both were mitigating factors, concluding his parents "neglected him," often left him home alone playing video games, and failed to get him a psychological evaluation.

More: Prosecution’s comments at Ethan Crumbley hearing could be risky for case against parents

"There is no question that defendant's home environment was not ideal," Rowe said.

Judge: Crumbley's chances for rehabilitation 'are slim'

Rowe also touched on Crumbley's ability to be rehabilitated — one of the five factors that must be considered in deciding whether life without parole is appropriate for minors. While Rowe determined that rehabilitation is a neutral factor in this case, he said Crumbley's chances for rehabilitation "are slim."

“It is clear from the record that the defendant was obsessed with violence,” said Rowe, citing Crumbley’s online searches of videos of school shootings and their aftermath, drawings of guns on 33 pages of homework, and fascination with Hitler.

The judge also cited Crumbley’s torture of baby birds and journal entries, in which he wrote about a desire to kidnap a neighbor girl and torture her, and becoming a serial killer should he not carry out a school shooting.

The judge also cited his jail behavior, noting Crumbley has been cited for not following various rules.

“The evidence does not indicate to this court that he wants to change,” Rowe said.

Rowe issued his decision more than a month after sitting through weeks of grueling testimony from health experts, police and students and staff who witnessed the horror of Crumbley's rampage on Nov. 30, 2021.

The witnesses were part of Crumbley's mandatory Miller hearing. The U.S. Supreme Court and Michigan Supreme Court have held that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles are unconstitutional and require a Miller hearing, during which a judge must consider several factors in reaching a decision, including:

  • The minor’s age, background and mental and emotional development.

  • His home life, family environment and character.

  • His record while incarcerated.

  • The circumstances of the crime, including the extent to which Crumbley was involved and how his family or peer pressure may have played a part.

  • The minor’s ability to be rehabilitated.

The defense has argued Crumbley is too young to be locked up forever, and deserves a chance to turn his life around and prove himself worthy of freedom one day. But the prosecution maintains he has forfeited the right to live freely again for murdering four classmates — two execution-style — injuring others and terrorizing an entire community in a massacre he planned out in his journal and in a manifesto that he recorded the night before the shooting.

Crumbley is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 8.

His parents, meanwhile, are still awaiting a ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court. James and Jennifer Crumbley are charged with involuntary manslaughter for their alleged roles in the students' deaths. Prosecutors say the parents ignored a mentally ill child and instead of getting him help, they bought him a gun — the same one he used in the shooting. The parents argue they had no way of knowing their son would commit a school shooting and are trying to get the charges dropped.

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Oxford school shooter Ethan Crumbley eligible for life without parole