The mother of the teenager who shot four students at a school in the US state of Michigan in 2021 has been convicted of negligent homicide. According to media reports, this is the first time in the United States that a parent of a shooter has been convicted of personal responsibility for such a crime.
A jury in the city of Pontiac found Jennifer C. guilty on all four counts in the high-profile case on Tuesday. The sentence will be decided on April 9th and the 45-year-old faces up to 15 years in prison. The murder weapon was a gift from the parents to their then 15-year-old son.
Serious allegations were made against the teenager's parents after the crime because they had bought the murder weapon and given their underage son access to it. They are also said to have ignored warning signs that it could become violent. The 45-year-old mother pleaded “not guilty” in the trial. Her husband is due to appear in court in a separate case in March.
During the trial, Jennifer C. explained that her husband bought the gun for their son. She emphasized that she never had any reason to believe that the teenager was capable of such a violent act. "I wish he had killed us instead."
The son had pleaded guilty to all 24 charges. Last year he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He did not testify in his mother's trial.
The teenager opened fire with a Sig Sauer pistol at his school in the small town of Oxford, north of Detroit, in November 2021. He killed four classmates and injured six other students and a teacher. The victims at Oxford High School were between 14 and 17 years old.
The parents were called to the school on the day of the crime because drawings by the then 15-year-old with violent fantasies had been found. They are said to have refused to take their son home - and also did not check whether the teenager had the weapon with him. A short time later, the teenager opened fatal fire.
In her closing argument, prosecutor Karen McDonald said the 45-year-old mother had failed to "exercise ordinary care." "She could have locked the ammunition away. She could have locked the gun away," McDonald emphasized. Defense attorney Shannon Smith argued that her client could not be held responsible for her son's actions. No one could have predicted this, she said.
The case has once again brought into focus the question of parents' responsibility for their children's actions. It is rare for parents to be charged and convicted of such acts of violence by minors in schools. Although parents have sometimes been held responsible for negligent behavior in the past, this case appears to be the first time a parent of an underage shooter has been found guilty of negligent homicide. The 12-member jury reportedly deliberated on its verdict for more than ten hours.
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Deadly shootings at schools and universities continue to occur in the United States. Gun laws in the United States vary by state, but firearms such as pistols and assault rifles are usually relatively easy to obtain. Stricter gun laws usually fail because of Republicans in Congress and the powerful gun lobby. US President Joe Biden has promised measures to curb gun violence, but so far without concrete results.