PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — A prosecutor urged a judge Friday to impose a life sentence on the teenager who killed four students at his Michigan school, arguing that his methodical planning and “appetite for violence” should keep him locked up forever.
“He only stopped because there was no one left to shoot. Those kids were trained to go into lockdown and they did,” Karen McDonald said.
“There were hundreds of kids in that building who wrote and texted their parents very similar things: ‘There’s a shooter. I'm scared. I love you.' ... They were helpless — like the birds,” McDonald said, referring to evidence that the shooter liked to torture birds.
Her final remarks came at the close of a tense four-day hearing that will determine whether Ethan Crumbley, 17, gets a life sentence for the attack at Oxford High School or a shorter term that would some day make him eligible for parole.
Because of the shooter's age — 15 at the time — Oakland County Judge Kwame Rowe must look at his maturity, mental health, tumultuous family life and other factors set by the U.S. Supreme Court. A life sentence for a minor would be rare, and the burden is on the prosecutor to show that it fits.
Crumbley pleaded guilty to murder, terrorism and other crimes. If Rowe doesn't choose a life term, the shooter would face a minimum prison sentence between 25 years and 40 years.
“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,” McDonald said.
The judge will announce a decision about a life sentence on Sept. 29, followed by the actual sentencing on Dec. 8.
The last witness was Dr. Lisa Anacker, a psychiatrist who evaluated the shooter at a state psychiatric hospital. She said he was not mentally ill at the time of the shooting, under a strict standard set in Michigan law.
Anacker said he communicated clearly with police after surrendering, followed commands and showed no signs of bizarre behavior.
Crumbley's lawyers have 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, testified on Aug. 1 that the teen was like a “feral child” because of his home life and mentally ill by the time of the shooting.
“Ethan was at his breaking point and no one stepped in,” defense attorney Paulette Michel Loftin told the judge. "Ethan had quit the bowling team. He had quit his job. He was failing almost every single subject. He sat alone at lunch. His only and trusted friend left.
“His dog died,” Loftin added. “He was hallucinating. He was hearing voices. He was depressed. He was suicidal.”
She referred to a disturbing drawing discovered by a teacher hours before the shooting. It included a bloody body and a gun pointing at the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” The teen was allowed to stay in school.
“The prosecutor was right: He didn't come out and tell the counselor his plan. But did he have to? Wasn't it glaringly obvious?” Loftin said.
Still, she said, “his sick brain can be repaired.”
More than 40 people filled the courtroom, including family members of victims who cried as the prosecutor recalled the shooting in great detail and offered the exact time of deaths.
McDonald repeatedly quoted passages from the shooter's journal about his desire to watch students suffer and the likelihood that he would spend his life in prison.
She said Crumbley spent much time planning the attack, even sticking toilet paper in his ears to block the sound of 32 gunshots. McDonald noted that he had looked for an online map of the school, learned that Michigan has no death penalty and checked which prison is designated for teens.
“He took pleasure in his appetite for violence, even acknowledging it was wrong by making comments such as, 'I love the darkness. It feels good,'" the prosecutor said.
The shooter's parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, are separately charged with involuntary manslaughter. They are accused of making a gun accessible at home and ignoring his mental health.
Buck Myre, the father of slain student Tate Myre, said prosecutors showed that the shooter deserves a life sentence. But he's also upset with the school district over an “epic systematic failure” to figure out that the teen was in crisis before the shooting.
“Life without parole or 50 years — it doesn’t bring the kids home,” Myre told reporters. “It doesn’t bring any accountability to what we believe needs to be a huge systematic change.”
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