The Charges Against Ethan Crumbley’s Parents

On Guns, Attack Dogs, and Lethal Schoolkids…

On the 6th of January 2001, two Presa Canarios got loose in a hallway of a San Francisco highrise apartment building. The dogs, owned by Cornfed Schneider of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, had been abused and were known to be extremely aggressive. On that January day, they attacked another resident of the building. Diane Whipple died from 77 bite wounds.

Lawyers Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller were keeping the dogs for Schneider. Knoller, who lost control of them, was convicted of second-degree murder. The jury agreed with the prosecutors, who described the dogs as ticking time bombs and said Knoller’s conduct transcended negligence and rose to the level of implied malice. The second-chair prosecutor, it might be remembered, was Kimberly Guilfoyle.

The judge rejected the murder conviction, and the couple was imprisoned for involuntary manslaughter. But in 2008 Judge Charlotte Woolard in San Francisco reinstated Marjorie Knoller’s earlier murder conviction. Ruling on the case, the California Supreme Court said implied-malice murder hinged on proof of the defendant’s “conscious disregard” for the risk to human life. Knoller returned to prison for second-degree murder and will be eligible to submit a second parole application in 2022.

Knoller didn’t plan the killing of Diane Whipple, but could have foreseen the risk of a deadly incident. In a parallel manner, Jennifer Crumbley and James Crumbley, shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley’s parents, had reason to know their teen could kill imminently.

Children can’t buy guns, but James went into a gun shop as a straw buyer, and 15-year-old Ethan got one. Many weeks earlier, one tabloid reports, James Crumbley apparently wrote on social media: “Trump will protect our 2nd amendment! I want my child to get a gun.” Jennifer Crumbley’s vows to vote for Trump in homage to the Second Amendment have circulated widely.

James and Jennifer used their child in furtherance of their pro-gun ideology. Noel and Knoller weaponized the dogs they kept. Neither the dogs nor Ethan had an escape route. “Thoughts won’t stop, help me,” Ethan wrote beside a sketch of a gun and a gunned-down body, before allegedly going on a killing spree and potentially being imprisoned forever.

The Presa Canarios were both killed.

Under the Head of Malice

“WTF?” wrote Jeffrey St. Clair of CounterPunch on social media, outlining a reported chronology of events leading up to the shooting at Oxford High School:

The day after Thanksgiving [26 Nov.], he and his father had gone together to a Michigan gun shop to buy it.

He and his mother spent a day [27 Nov.] testing out the gun…

On Monday [29 Dec.], when a teacher reported seeing their son searching online for ammunition, his mother did not seem alarmed. “LOL I’m not mad at you,” Jennifer Crumbley texted her son. “You have to learn not to get caught.”

During school [30 Nov.], Ethan drew a picture of his gun along with the words “help me” and “blood everywhere.” He was sent to the office but was sent back to class. The shooting happened about 3 hours later…

Reportedly, the parents resisted removing their child from the school. They never told the staff about the gun, and apparently never checked for it. WTF indeed. In Michigan, the crime of second-degree murder encompasses death caused by reckless disregard for human life. The mental state of “a wanton and wilful disregard of a harmful consequence known to be likely to result…goes beyond negligence and comes under the head of malice.” People v. Mendoza, 468 Mich. 527, 541 (Mich. 2003).

Ethan went into the school restroom with a backpack, and came out holding a 9 mm Sig Sauer SP 2022. Jennifer texted “Ethan, don’t do it” after 15 people were shot. James called 911 to report the gun missing and to say Ethan might be the shooter.

Subsequently, Ethan’s parents ran off and hid in a Detroit building, leaving their egregiously misparented teen sitting in a suicide prevention vest in the county jail. The teen was charged as an adult with murder and terrorism.

The parents were later found and deposited in the same county jail as Ethan. They’re charged with involuntary manslaughter. Each parent could get up to 15 years for each of the four students killed. The charges for the parents (who weren’t at the school during the shooting) are raising eyebrows, but what of those slapped on Ethan—terrorism and murder for this grotesquely manipulated 15-year-old?

Granted, charging people who weren’t on the scene is a slippery slope that supports the carceral state. Indeed, Washington state already makes failure to lock up guns a felony if it leads to someone else’s injury or death. Further, as Jeffrey St. Clair notes, one of the vilest sections of the Clinton/Biden crime bill authorizes the federal death penalty for crimes other than murder.

That an estimated 5 million kids live in homes with unsecured guns is an issue. But so is legislation that expands the U.S. cycle of mass incarceration. So, I’m no fan of the carceral state. My question about the immediate charges in front of us? While their kid is accused of terrorism, the parents’ charge is defined by the absence of malice. So again, WTF. Because if anyone has ever had “a wanton and wilful disregard of a harmful consequence” these two people sure AF did, through the moment they walked away while their desperate child asked for help, when other people’s lives depended on that help being given. The involuntary manslaughter charges they face would not be unprecedented—arguably, second-degree murder charges wouldn’t be, either.

As for the broader issue, we live in a nation that now produces situations in which millions of schoolkids, disproportionately Black schoolkids, face guns in schools every year. The imperative to create a culture that stops fetishizing guns is desperately obvious. Caging the fetishists’ children won’t do that.

Lee Hall holds an LL.M. in environmental law with a focus on climate change, and has taught law as an adjunct at Rutgers–Newark and at Widener–Delaware Law. Lee is an author, public speaker, and creator of the Studio for the Art of Animal Liberation on Patreon.