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Michigan School Shooter's Mom Convicted Of Manslaughter In Son's Killings; Federal Appeals Court Unanimously Rejects Trump's Immunity Claim; Border Deal On Brink Of Defeat Before Key Senate Vote. 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 06, 2024 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We do have breaking news. Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of the teenager who killed four students at an Oxford Michigan high school in 2021, has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Yes. It is a significant development. Let's bring in CNN's Jean Casarez, who's been tracking this case for months now.

Jean, walk us through what we learned today, the jury's decision.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the jury found Jennifer Crumbley guilty on all four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one count for every student that was murdered by their son, her son, in November of 2021.

Beyond a reasonable doubt saying that she was a grossly negligent parent and/or that she violated the legal duty in Michigan that a parent has to a child.

Now, what this jury looked at were the months leading up to November 30th, 2021 that he was exhibiting signs of mental instability to say the least. He thought he might be having hallucinations. He saw bowls flying off the shelves. His mother spent time away from the house. He was alone so much of the time. He never exhibited any signs of violence, however, during any of those months at all.

But then we take us into Black Friday. The family already had two handguns, but Ethan had wanted a nine millimeter. He'd been asking his father for it for months. They had no idea what his journal had in his bedroom that he was writing, that he was planning to do a mass shooting at the school and he needed a nine millimeter. But his father went to the gun shop on November 30th, Black Friday. They saw one on sale. They got it. It was cash deal. It was Ethan's money that he had earned from waiting on tables. And then four days later, that mass murder happened.

Now, one thing that I think is important, because we heard from the school and they miss so many signs. Of course, they're not on trial. They will not be charged. But I looked in my notes and I listened to a call on Monday when Ethan was researching bullets. It was the day before the mass shooting. The teacher calls Jennifer Crumbley that night and she very nicely says he should not research bullets at school. Ethan told me he went target practicing over the weekend at the gun range.

And I understand families have a sport of shooting, but just to remind you, best not to look at bullets. So they had given -- been given that notice that there was access to a gun by Ethan.

Nonetheless, the defendant today was Jennifer Crumbley. And she now will have sentencing in April. There is 15 years on each count of involuntary manslaughter. Although the judge makes the final decision. It is believed that it will be concurrent sentences. That would be 15 years and she has been in lockup 23 hours a day, she testified, for two years now.

Keilar: All right. Let's bring in Laura Coates now. Just a stunning verdict here. And I think Laura, we were prepared for this to be the outcome. And yet at the same time, it sort of shakes us because this is a new era, perhaps, if this is going to be a standard.

This is something that is going to be considered in so many other cases when it comes to the culpability, not just of a shooter, but of the people around them.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Not just the parents likely at some point either. It could be those around them who were aware of red flags and stopped acting or did not do enough to prevent that which later occurred.

It's going to be a very interesting precedent that will now be created. I think there was probably a strategy behind the scenes as well here, Brianna, about the decision to try these parents separately. They're not being tried together. The father will eventually be tried coming up soon.

That was likely the decision to figure out a finger pointing would result in an acquittal for one. By one saying that they had passed the baton onto the other to oversee, A, related to the gun, would that be enough? Would you appeal to the parents on the jury and suggest, look, I'm just like every other parent. I miss some things. I don't know about all the other things.


Or would the fact that you were aware that he had a gun, that there were red flags that you should have recognized and failed to do so? Would that be enough to say negligent and criminal negligence?

Here this jury said yes. And why this is so important? Remember, Ethan Crumbley has now been convicted after pleading guilty, and he is serving life without parole. That's not an automatic for somebody who is 15 at the time with the actual killings when they occurred. That had to be decided that he could be treated and tried as that adult- like status and sentenced accordingly based on the conduct and behavior.

He remained in an adult jail throughout much of the duration of all this, because they believe that his mental maturity was such that of an adult, not of a 15-year-old. Why does that matter? Because now you have somebody who would be treated like an adult for sentencing purposes, and yet their parents can be held accountable for their action.

Think of this as a school shooter and a minor. Think about mass shootings more broadly. And sadly, in this country, Brianna, we grapple with them at a level and rate that is unconscionable. Imagine if somebody with an -- as an adult, also now with red flags being a parent, could be held to account for those who know that person.

This truly was a moment though, a historic proportions. A mother responsible for the actions of her son, failing to heed the warnings, to address the warnings, and perhaps most significantly on that very day when the school believed it may have just been drawings, when they left it to the parents in part to decide whether to take him out of the school.

The school administrators were handicapped by not having the knowledge that he had a gun. They didn't check the school book bag. The parents were aware that he had a gun at least in the home, did not check, did not follow up, and when they learned that there was a school shooter, the mother texted, "don't do it," to her son. That was an extraordinary hurdle to overcome if you're the defense.

And remember, it was only her testifying. I can't help but wonder what the dynamics of that discussion with her attorney were. Remember, the judge said when asking if it had more witnesses, she said, on this, me and my client disagree. And we have to come to a kind of meeting of the minds and paraphrasing here. I wonder if it was you need to call your son or not.

Misty, ultimately, as a defense attorney, was it a mistake to only have Jennifer Crumbley as a witness in her defense?

MISTY MARRIS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: So she's the one who really has to tell the story. She's the best witness to put on that stand. And, of course, you take a risk whenever you put the defendant on the stand, because it opens up other areas of inquiries and you subject yourself to cross-examination.

But to your question, they did, the defense tried to compel Ethan Crumbley to take the stand. His lawyers intervened and said, no way, because he has an appeal coming with respect to his sentencing of life without parole when the crime was committed by a minor.

So they were really handcuffed in that way that he would take the stand and only plead the fifth. The judge then said, there's no reason for him to take the stand if he's not going to be able to answer any questions.

But you bring up such a critical point, and I think we will see it in the appeal. And appeals are generally based on errors of law and things the judge should have let in or shouldn't have let in. And that's that -- one of the questions by the jury was, can we make an assumption based on evidence we did not see specifically relating to how did Ethan get possession of the gun?

They wanted to know how Ethan came into possession of that gun. That is critical. And the only person that can answer that question is Ethan Crumbley.

So I do think the defense did what they needed to do. They tried to compel the testimony. The Fifth Amendment was always going to blockade that under this particular set of circumstances, but it did leave a gaping hole in the jury's mind.

Now, again, lots of other evidence here. Laura brought up a great point. That text message, "Ethan, don't do it," that was always a sticking point for me, because even if it was a fear that he was committing suicide, it lends the belief that she knew something was amiss with him prior to the incident. So a lot of play here.

KEILAR: Yes. There were certainly, I think, any reasonable person listening to that testimony, there were some believability issues with that specific part of her testimony.

Areva, to you, so much of this, I think, centers around this, trying to convince a jury. I couldn't believe that my kid would do this. And, of course, then that leads to the confirmation bias that that's what a parent is just going to confirm.


I wonder if now this is now more incumbent on parents to hypothesis test the opposite, which is maybe my child could do this and I really need to be looking at the risk factors and the red flags.

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely, Brianna. This case just raises so many issues. You have to start with the gun was a gift for Christmas. And remember there was testimony that Jennifer was bragging on social media about buying this gun, about going to the shooting range shooting with her son.

So, yes, parents need to be asking the question, why are you buying a kid that's obsessed with guns a gun? Why are you telling him when he says he gets caught for searching for ammunition online, you tell him, it's OK to do it basically but don't get caught.

So this mother was just doing an engaged in conduct that's really bizarre. And in this case, it's been -- it's been determined to be criminal because of her gross negligence. There were just so many red flags in this case.

Let's talk about the -- what happened after they were charged themselves. We know they tried to escape conscious of guiltiness of consciousness when they were on the run. They were actually fleeing the state. They didn't show up at their own son's arraignment.

So, again, here you want us to think you were this very involved parent, this very caring parent. But when your son is facing this very serious situation, you are running from law enforcement.

SANCHEZ: Areva, please stand by. We actually have some fresh sound in from Pontiac, Michigan.

Craig Schilling, the father of 17-year-old Justin Schilling was just speaking to reporters. Justin was of course killed in the Oxford High School shooting. Let's listen to this father talk after this verdict.


CRAIG SHILLING, FATHER OF CRUMBLEY VICTIM JUSTIN SHILLING: It was a long time coming, but it's definitely a step toward to an accountability like what we were talking about. It's kind of been our goal the whole time. It was a tough the way to out for sure. There was a lot of emotion and back here and in the courtroom.

It's definitely -- it's definitely going to resonate with me for a while. And, you know, I hope that I'll be able to calm down and get some, you know, some sense of a good feeling, but it's not really a good feeling. It's not really about winning or losing, you know. It's about, you know, making it apparent that, you know, this has to stop and society and, you know what, it's going to go all the way now.

I mean there's no -- there's no way to look the other way and we have to address things in every level and it's very clear now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think the message is to parents as well as school officials across the country?

SHILLINGS: Do your due diligence with your child. It is your choice to have a child. And you cannot choose to not take care of your child. You cannot choose and not nurture your child. You cannot choose to take your own interest over your child, especially when it comes to mental health and addressing, you know, concerns or problem.

I mean everything about that was disturbing. There's a lot of stuff that could have easily thwarted this whole -- this whole thing. It could have stopped and stopped very easily.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What were your --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. What were you feeling as the jury was rooting --


SANCHEZ: Really powerful words from the father of Justin Schilling, the 17-year-old boy killed in Oxford, Michigan. Craig Schilling saying that this is a step toward accountability, saying, there is no way to look the other way now, adding, as a parent, you cannot choose to not nurture your child, you cannot choose to take your own interest over your child and their mental health.

We'll of course stay on top of the very latest from Pontiac, Michigan as we leave you with a look at the four young victims that were killed at Oxford High School. We'll be right back.



KEILAR: Former president Trump says he will appeal the historic ruling that a federal appeals court made today against him. The three-judge panel found that he has no presidential immunity for the crimes that he allegedly committed while he was in office.

This decision is a major blow to Trump's key defense so far in the federal criminal case from Special Counsel Jack Smith. He charged trump with multiple offenses accusing him of trying to subvert the 2020 election.

The appeals judges not only cited with the Justice Department here. They also repeatedly condemned Trump's actions after his 2020 defeat. They cited the indictment which said he allegedly used his seat of power to, "Unlawfully overstay his term as president and to displace his dually elected successor."

And the judges ruled that the courts can try a former president who has been impeached in Congress.

We have CNN's Kaitlan Collins joining us now on this.

So, Kaitlan, the judges unanimously ruling here against Trump's immunity claim hugely significant.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: It is. And it was the ruling that we expected, but when you actually read through it, the fact that it was unanimous, that they all -- not only signed on to this, they're all saying that they agree with what is in this decision by the court.

It's significant because they're basically undermining and rejecting every single defense that you saw Trump's team make when he went before those three judges. We got to listen to that hearing live. It was quite a remarkable moment where the one judge was bringing up the prospect of a president hypothetically using SEAL Team Six to kill a political opponent. And whether or not he would be immune from prosecution there.

And now we can read what these judges thought. And they are outright rejecting Trump's claim that he is immune from criminal prosecution.

And, therefore, Brianna, they are answering a question that no other court has answered before this question of this novel idea because, of course, we've never had a former president indicted before in this situation.


One thing that's key here though in addition to what they are doing as they go through every defense that Trump's team made and are rejecting them is they're putting a time limit here. They are saying that by next Monday, Trump has to go to the Supreme Court if he wants to request that emergency state of this decision rejecting his claims of immunity.

And, therefore, they're kind of cutting out other options that Trump has to continue to delaying this by repeatedly appealing it which we know, Brianna, has been a tactic that his legal team has been pursuing.

We are told from Trump's side that they are going to appeal this to the Supreme Court. Then the question is whether or not the Supreme Court, of course, takes up this matter.

KEILAR: And how is Trump responding to this all, Kaitlan?

COLLINS: I don't think he's surprised though. I mean he never likes when his legal team loses an argument on his behalf. I should note that that's kind of a very general evergreen statement for Trump based on years of covering him.

But I think that this decision was expected. I think what was not expected by the Trump team is the quick turnaround that they got from the court here saying that you have only a matter of days to make your decision here because they are trying to move this along quickly.

And so if we don't see the Supreme Court take it up, I mean, we could be in a moment where initially just the other week we thought that this case may not happen anytime soon, that could be changing. It really is going to be up to the Supreme Court whether or not they even take this case up.

When you talk to sources inside Trump's world, previously, they were confident the Supreme Court would take it up. It's not so clear after reading this unanimous opinion, this unanimous decision, from this court. So that's really the big question here, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. If they just defer to the lower court here.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. We appreciate it.


SANCHEZ: A major bipartisan border deal and foreign aid package appears on track to fail in the Senate with a key vote scheduled for tomorrow.

Now, it would take only 41 senators voting against the bill to sink the agreement. There are already more than 23 who have signaled that they are opposed to it. The proposals faced relentless attacks from former president Donald Trump and top House Republicans.

So President Biden is now trying to draw contrast accusing Republicans of tanking a strong deal. Listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It represents the most fair, humane, reforms in our immigration system in a long time. And the toughest set of reforms to secure the border ever.

Now, all indications are this bill won't even move forward to the Senate floor. Why? A simple reason. Donald Trump.

He'd rather weaponize this issue than actually solve it. So for the last 24 hours, he's done nothing, I'm told, but reach out to Republicans in the House and the Senate and threaten them and try to intimidate them to vote against his proposal.

And looks like they're caving. Frankly, they owe it to the American people to show some spine and do what they know to be right.


SANCHEZ: Now, supporters of the new border package argue that opponents are misrepresenting several key elements.

So let's walk through some of those claims. One of the central disputes that this bill would permit 5,000 migrants to enter the country illegally every day. We've heard Republicans make this claim on social media, including the House majority leader, Steve Scalise, and former president Trump.

This is inaccurate. In fact, the National Border Patrol Council president just said that this wasn't true. Brandon Judd said that it's actually the exact opposite and that this bill would be a huge deterrent.

We're going to hear more from him in a moment. But what does he mean when he says that this would be a huge deterrent?

Now, they are referring to an emergency provision mandating that the border be closed if the average showing up each day for a week is 5,000 or 8,500 in a single day. That means no asylum claims outside of a port of entry.

And with some exceptions, anyone crossing illegally is removed. It does not mean that migration goes unchecked up to 5,000 a day. We should point out, this is a provision that does sunset after three years.

Another argument from the House Republican leadership, quote, "The bill expands work authorizations for illegal aliens while failing to include critical asylum reforms."

Let's break this one up into parts. Top Republicans in the Senate. Yes, Senate Republicans, the same party debating the same bill, they argue that the border act completely reforms asylum laws.

My grins, they say, would have a much higher standard to meet in order to qualify for asylum and they would receive those qualification interviews within days of arriving at the border.

Let's compare that to the way that things are now. The asylum process could take a decade for any single individual, yet, supporters say this bill would expedite the process. They would get adjudication within a mere six months. That could help unclog this court system that severely backlog with more than three million pending cases.


And back to that claim from the House leadership about work authorizations. That part is true. Work authorizations for undocumented migrants, screened for asylum, are allowed in this Senate deal. But you know what other bill allows for that?

H.R. 2. If you're not familiar, that's the bill. The very same MAGA Republicans opposing this new border act have been demanding the Senate pass for months. H.R. 2 also provides work authorizations for undocumented migrants who've been screened for asylum. It actually even lets them keep reapplying for extensions indefinitely which the Senate border deal limits.

Notably, unlike H.R. 2, the Senate deal is bipartisan. Even as there are some Democrats who oppose it, including California Senator, Alex Padilla, because it includes zero protections for Dreamers. There is no so-called amnesty in this bill. That's something Trump himself couldn't even get as president when he negotiated his own failed immigration deal back in 2018.

Notably, I mentioned the National Border Patrol Council president. They are backing this agreement. They write that the bill is a step in the right direction and they hope that it quickly passes.

This union, representing border patrol agents, actually endorsed Donald Trump for president, twice. For his part, Trump said on Monday that anyone who would vote for this deal is a fool, even though many of these proposed changes are, as we showed you, things that Trump lobbied for during his presidency.

In fact, here's Senator James Lankford on that. Let's listen.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): A lot of these issues he asked for when he was president in 2018. He was asking for changes in asylum law. This includes those changes in asylum law.

In 2019, when President Trump was president, we had 4,000, so that's 4,500 people a day that were crossing the border illegally. And he was working to be able to limit that, which he eventually was able to do.

But there were a lot of laws that we could pass in this that would make sure that never happens again under any president.


SANCHEZ: And we have news just in to CNN. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, told reporters moments ago that the immigration and foreign aid package will not become law due to speaker Mike Johnson's opposition and concerns within the Senate Republican Conference.

This now begs the question, Brianna, is this about opposing the policy itself, what's actually in the text of the bill or capitalizing on a serious problem to win votes?

KEILAR: Yes, that certainly is a big question here, Boris.

And we are joined now by a Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma. Sir, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us.

Boris just so clearly --

REP. JOSH BRECHEEN (R-OK): Happy to be with you.

KEILAR: -- outlined what is in this compromise between Senate Republicans and Democrats in the White House.

I do want to look at the bill and see where the problem is for you and your opposition here. The crux, of course, is this trigger that gives the president the authority to bar migrants, really, not just this president, any president to bar migrants between ports of entry once crossings hit 4,000 as a daily average in a week. And then it makes it required once it hits 5,000 on a daily average in a week or 85,000 in a single day.

These are thresholds that have been reached nearly every day for months now. This is something that would be kicked in today, for instance.

What is the problem with that part of the bill?

BRECHEEN: Look, I want to stay off of a, you know, a work product that someone from my state has worked on. It's on the Senate side. I'm on the House side.

You know, your own reporting has already described that this bill is not going anywhere. That is a decision that's being made on the Senate side.

In terms of the real solution, the real solution has been on the -- on the Senate side.

KEILAR: No, sir. I need to rewind there with you. This is -- this is endangered because House Republicans say that this is going to go nowhere, and because former president Trump has said that this should go nowhere. And once that happened, you started to see Senate Republican support peel off.

BRECHEEN: Well, look, I would tell you that --

KEILAR: So can we talk -- what I want to do is I want to talk about the issue, because I've gone through talking --

BRECHEEN: Yes, happy to.

KEILAR: -- with many of your colleagues about H.R. 2. And now, which isn't -- which is not, you know, that's certainly a starting point for your House Republicans, but let's talk about this bill. What is the problem with that kind of trigger which would shut down the border, which is something that House Republicans have been calling for?

BRECHEEN: Well, that is the thing we've been calling for, is to seal that open border. And so the question is, where is migrant protection protocol? Where is Remain in Mexico policy that says, why should it be the United States' responsibility to not only pay for detention of those that would come across in heightened numbers?