PONTIAC—A teenager who killed four students at Michigan’s Oxford High School will learn Friday whether he will spend his life in prison or get a chance for parole in the decades ahead.
Judge Kwame Rowe will announce his 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.
First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence for adults in Michigan. But the shooter was 15 at the time, and the judge has the option of choosing a shorter term that would mean an eventual opportunity for freedom.
The actual sentence won’t be formally imposed in Oakland County court until Dec. 8, a day when survivors and families can tell the judge about how the shooting affected their lives.
“Even if the defendant changes, and he finds some peace and some meaning in his life beyond torturing and killing, does not mean that he ever gets the right to live free among us,” prosecutor Karen McDonald said while arguing for a life sentence on Aug. 18.
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 north of Detroit. Six students and a teacher were also wounded.
James and Jennifer Crumbley are separately charged with involuntary manslaughter. They are accused of making a gun accessible at home and ignoring their son’s mental health.
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