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Michigan teen shooter eligible for life in prison, no parole, for killing 4 students, judge rules

Ethan Crumbley listens to testimony during his hearing at Oakland County Circuit Court Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, in Pontiac, Mich.
Clarence Tabb Jr.
Detroit News via AP
Ethan Crumbley listens to testimony during his hearing at Oakland County Circuit Court Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, in Pontiac, Mich.

The judge heard testimony in July and August from experts who gave different opinions about Ethan Crumbley’s mental health

A teenager who killed four students at Michigan’s Oxford High School is eligible for life in prison with no chance for parole, a judge said Friday.

Judge Kwamé Rowe announced the decision over video conference, weeks after hearing from experts who clashed over Ethan Crumbley’s mental health and witnesses who described the tragic day in 2021 in sharp detail.

Rowe said prosecutors had overcome a presumption that life in prison would be unfair to a minor. Crumbley heard the decision with his lawyers while sitting in a room in the county jail.

The 17-year-old will be formally sentenced in Oakland County court on Dec. 8, a day when survivors and families can tell the judge about how the shooting affected their lives.

First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence for adults in Michigan. But the shooter was 15 at the time, which gives the judge options: life in prison or a shorter term — somewhere from 25 years to 40 years at a minimum — and an eventual opportunity for freedom.

“This crime is not the result of impetuosity or recklessness,” Rowe said. “Nor does the crime reflect the hallmarks of youth. Defendant carefully and meticulously planned and carried out the shooting.”

Prosecutor Karen McDonald has argued that life in prison would fit the crimes.

The shooter pleaded guilty to murder, terrorism and other crimes. The teen and his parents met with school staff on the day of the shooting after a teacher noticed violent drawings. But no one checked his backpack for a gun and he was allowed to stay.

The shooter's lawyers had argued that he was in a devastating spiral by fall 2021 after being deeply neglected by his parents, who bought a gun and took him to a shooting range to try it. A psychologist, Colin King, described him as a “feral child.”

Defense attorney Paulette Michel Loftin said Crumbley deserved an opportunity for parole some day after his “sick brain" is fixed through counseling and rehabilitation.

Dr. Lisa Anacker, a psychiatrist who evaluated the shooter at a state psychiatric hospital, said he was not mentally ill at the time of the shooting, at least under strict standards in Michigan law.

There is no dispute that the shooter kept a journal and wrote about his desire to watch students suffer and the likelihood that he would spend his life in prison. He made a video with his phone on the eve of shooting, declaring what he would do the next day.

“I’m sorry the families have to go through this,” he said.

He killed Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana and Justin Shilling Oxford High, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) north of Detroit. Six students and a teacher were also wounded.

Ethan Crumbley’s defense team walked from the jail minutes after the hearing ended. Loftin declined to comment.

In the adult wing of the jail, segregated from their son, James and Jennifer Crumbley are charged with involuntary manslaughter. They are accused of making a gun accessible at home and ignoring their son’s mental health.

___ This story has been corrected to reflect that the judge determined the shooter is eligible for a life sentence, not that he will get a life sentence at sentencing.

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