Sins of the Parents: The Crumbley Trials (2024) Movie Review – A sad, sobering and one-sided documentary

A sad, sobering and one-sided documentary

On November 30, 2021,15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, a student at Oxford High School in Michigan, killed four of his classmates and injured several others using a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. He was arrested and charged with the crimes and was sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2023.

There’s no doubt that Ethan was guilty of first-degree murder but for Attorney Karen McDonald, he wasn’t the only person responsible for the shootings. After discovering more about his parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, and their alleged neglect of their son, she decided to take them to trial for the part they had to play in Ethan’s crime. 

The subsequent trials of the parents (and the lead-up to their individual court appearances) are chronicled in the Hulu/Disney+ documentary Sins of the Parents: The Crumbley Trials. We go behind the scenes of what became a historic case leading to a landmark ruling that saw both parents being convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

As is discovered in the documentary, Ethan’s parents bought him a gun as a gift. This was the weapon he subsequently used a few days later to murder four students in his school. The fact that his parents bought him a gun was an act of negligence on their part. However, according to the prosecutors in the Crumbley Trials,  the parents’ negligence went further than that. As we hear from Prosecuting Attorney Karen McDonald, the parents were also neglectful of their son’s mental health problems.

The documentary uses a fly-on-the-wall style approach to chronicle the work the prosecuting team put in to secure a conviction against James and Jennifer Crumbley. We see them building their case against Ethan’s parents and then watch them put forward their findings at two separate trials that took place in 2024. 

A lot of time is spent with the prosecution team but we hear very little from the lawyers defending the Crumbley parents. This makes the documentary rather one-sided as the only information we hear about James and Jennifer are from the people who stood against them in court. As such, we are told that Ethan’s parents did little to help their son, with the finger pointed at Jennifer in particular for spending more time with her horses and the man she was having an affair with instead of her son. 

But were the Crumbley parents really as negligent as the prosecution claimed? Possibly, but it would have been helpful to hear more from their side of the story. Instead, the documentary is weighed heavily towards the case that was being made against them, with interviews with the shooting victims’ parents and the attorneys pursuing justice on their behalf. 

Where were the interviews with the neighbours of James and Jennifer Crumbley? Or their friends or extended family members? Admittedly, such people may have painted the Crumbleys in as bad a light as the prosecuting team did. But then again, they may have given us insight into a better side of their characters and their relationship with Ethan.

Despite these oversights, the documentary is gripping viewing at times, thanks to footage of the trials where Ethan and his parents were found guilty by each respective jury. It also makes for heartbreaking viewing when we hear the parents and siblings of the shooting victims speak out about the impact Ethan’s actions (and his parents’ inaction) had on their lives. For all the focus on Ethan and his upbringing, it is these people who matter the most and their children who so tragically lost their lives. 

Sins of the Parents is an adequate documentary about two parents’ culpability in their son’s crime. It’s a sad and sobering watch and another reminder that the mental health of the world’s teenagers needs to be a priority concern for their parents and their teachers.

Perhaps if Ethan’s internal struggles had been taken more seriously by the people in his circle, the shooting at Oxford High School may have been prevented. This is something we’ll never know but regardless of the finger-pointing at the Crumbley’s, something is missing from this story that should have been addressed – the American right to bear arms. If guns weren’t so readily available, there would (presumably) be far fewer shootings at the nation’s schools. Do you agree? A larger discussion around this would be welcomed in another documentary. 


Read More: Where and Jennifer and James Crumbley now?

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  • Verdict - 6.5/10