Yesterday, attorneys for Ethan Crumbley filed a notice that they were pursuing an insanity defense for their 15-year-old client.
On the surface, this may seem like a viable defense. After all, Ethan Crumbley is said to have pronounced mental health issues. He also kept the severed head of a bird in a jar before allegedly leaving it in one of the school’s bathrooms.
However, there’s not really a one-to-one comparison with mental health issues and insanity. Insanity defenses typically come down to whether or not the suspect knew the difference between right or wrong at the time of the crime. You can be mentally ill and still know the difference between right and wrong.
In my opinion, I think it’s clear that Ethan Crumbley knew what he was doing was wrong. If you’ll recall, the shooting took place shortly after Ethan Crumbley’s parents had a meeting with the school over Ethan’s disturbing behavior. Due to the inaction of his parents and possibly the school, Ethan probably figured that it was only a matter of time before the school caught on to his plot, so this was the last chance he had to carry out his plan.
Being found not guilty by reason of insanity isn’t an immediate stroll out of the courtroom. Under Michigan law, Crumbley would be placed in the custody of a state psychiatric facility. If found guilty but insane, Crumbley could be sentenced to prison along with psychiatric treatment recommendations.
Crumbley wouldn’t be the first school shooter to try an insanity defense. The one insanity defense that sticks out in my mind was the one that sprung from a 2003 school shooting at Rocori High School in Minnesota. The shooter from that incident claimed that he heard voices and was experiencing visual hallucinations. It turned out that the suspect was mimicking disorders he had seen in TV and movies without knowing how they actually affect individuals who suffer from them.
To my recollection, no school shooter or attacker has ever been found not guilty by reason of insanity, and I don’t think Crumbley’s defense team will be successful in doing so. To be honest, they probably don’t think they’ll be successful either. I would imagine this is more a ploy to get a reduced sentence. But even there, they’re fighting an uphill battle. Even if most of the blame is put at the feet of Crumbley’s parents, I don’t see Crumbley being sentenced to any less than one life sentence without parole.