A Shooter’s Parents Were Convicted of Manslaughter. What Happens Next?

When the prosecutor Karen McDonald decided to press criminal charges against the parents of the teenager who carried out the deadliest school shooting in Michigan’s history, even some members of her own staff expressed doubts, fearing the case was too ambitious to win.

“It seemed a huge reach to try to hold the parents responsible,” said Linda C. Fentiman, a professor emerita at Pace University who is an expert in health law and criminal law. “This was new legal territory.”

But in the end, prosecutors were able to convince two separate juries that they had met their burden of proof. The parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, were both found guilty on four counts of involuntary manslaughter — one for each of the students who had been shot to death by their son at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021.

Now the question is whether the cases will affect the legal terrain around criminal law, parental responsibility and gun legislation.

Mark D. Chutkow, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor in Michigan, said that the unique circumstances in this trial made it unlikely that the country would see a barrage of similar cases in which parents are tried for crimes committed by their children.

Still, he added, more prosecutors might be likely to try Ms. McDonald’s approach. “They’ve got a playbook to look at,” he said. “And they can try to apply it, even in cases with maybe less compelling factors.”

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