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 unique 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 consider his maturity, mental health, tumultuous family life and other factors set by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Crumbley pleaded guilty to murder, terrorism and other crimes. If Rowe doesn’t choose a life sentence, the shooter would face a minimum prison term between 25 years and 40 years.
The judge will announce his decision about a life term on Sept. 29, followed by the actual sentencing on Dec. 8.
The last witness was Dr. Lisa Anacker, a psychiatrist who evaluates criminal defendants at a state psychiatric hospital. She said the shooter 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.
“I can absolutely understand how it would be difficult to imagine how a sane person could commit mass murder,” she said. “But the research does show us that mental illness does not account for most of the violence in our country.”
Crumbley’s lawyers have argued that he was in a devastating spiral by fall 2021 and deeply neglected by his parents, who agreed to buy him a gun and take him to a shooting range.
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. He said rehabilitation in prison was definitely possible.
“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 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.”
The courtroom was full with more than 40 people, including family members of victims who wept as the prosecutor recalled the shooting in great detail and offered the exact time of deaths.
McDonald repeatedly quoted passages from the shooter’s handwritten journal about his desire to watch other 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 to see 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 the gun accessible at home and ignoring his mental health.
During earlier days of testimony, the judge listened to eyewitness accounts from four people, including a staff member who was wounded and a student who saved a wounded girl. Besides the deaths of four students, seven other people were shot.
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