No ‘slam-dunk’ in potential precedent-setting case against Highland Park shooting suspect’s father, experts say

The success or failure of the case against Robert Crimo Jr. will tell other prosecutors about the court’s appetite for holding parents responsible for the acts of their children.

SHARE No ‘slam-dunk’ in potential precedent-setting case against Highland Park shooting suspect’s father, experts say
Robert E. Crimo Jr., center, father of Robert Crimo III, listens as he sits with his attorney George Gomez, left, during an appearance before Judge George D. Strickland at the Lake County, Ill., Courthouse Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, in Waukegan, Ill. Crimo Jr., faces seven counts of felony reckless conduct for signing the application for his son’s firearm owners ID card in December of 2019.

Robert E. Crimo Jr., center, father of Robert Crimo III, faces seven counts of felony reckless conduct for signing the application for his son’s firearm owners ID card in December 2019.

Associated Press

Prosecutors rarely charge the parents of young mass shooters because it is difficult to prove the adults could reasonably foresee the actions taken by their children.

So it was possibly a precedent-setting moment when Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart charged Robert E. Crimo Jr., the father of the accused Highland Park parade shooter, with reckless conduct for signing his son’s firearm ownership application, experts say.

“Parents who help their kids get weapons of war are morally and legally responsible when those kids hurt others with those weapons,” Rinehart said after a grand jury indicted Robert E. Crimo Jr. in February.

But the case may be difficult to prove, experts say. And its success or failure will tell other prosecutors about the judicial branch’s appetite for holding parents responsible for the acts of their children.

“This case will serve as kind of a bellwether,” said Hugh Mundy, a law professor at the University of Illinois Chicago.

“In the absence of legislative action, I do think that state, and maybe even the federal, [prosecutors] will attempt to find more creative means, more indirect means, to deter shootings of this kind,” he said.

Prosecutors may struggle to prove the father was reckless because of the nearly three-year gap between when he signed the FOID card application in 2019, when his son was 19, and the attack July 4, 2022, in which his son, Robert E. Crimo III, is accused of killing seven people and wounding dozens of others.

Robert E. Crimo III, seated left, appears with his attorneys Gregory Ticsay, assistant public defender for Lake County, center, and Anton Trizna before Judge Victoria A. Rossetti at the Lake County Courthouse Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in Waukegan.

Robert E. Crimo III, seated left, is charged with killing seven people and wounding dozens of others at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade.

Associated Press

“Given the number of years [that passed], I think it’s going to be a hard case to prove,” said Monu Bedi, who teaches a class on criminal procedure at DePaul University.

There are two other pending cases in which parents were charged for the gun crimes committed by their children.

In Michigan, the parents of Ethan Crumbley were charged with involuntary manslaughter in December after the fatal shooting of four students at Oxford High School when Crumbley was 15 years old.

In Virginia, a grand jury in April indicted the mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his school teacher in the chest and hand. The mother is charged with child neglect and recklessness.

Prosecutors in Crimo Jr.’s case need to prove the father knew there was a high risk that his son would harm others if he signed the FOID application, Bedi said.

Prosecutors have said Crimo Jr. knew his son had threatened to kill himself and his family, which is documented in police reports when officers responded to the family’s home in the year before he signed the FOID card application.

“There is some evidence that the son had suicidal/homicidal thoughts, but because the actual shooting occurred years later after signing the application, it’s not a slam-dunk that the father was aware of this risk at the time he signed the document,” Bedi said.

Prosecutors also need to prove the father’s act of signing the FOID application legally caused deaths, which could be “incredibly difficult,” said Doug Godfrey, professor of legal writing and research at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

“Causation is links in a chain, and that’s a very long chain,” Godfrey said. “There’s also intervening causes, which can break the chain. I’m sure the defense can point to many other things or people that may have contributed.”

Bedi said the nearly three-year gap between when the card was signed and the shooting occurred works against the prosecutors’ argument.

“It is going to be harder than if it were a minor child and the shootings happened very close in proximity to the signing of the application,” Bedi said.

Another aspect of the case is the jury’s appetite for holding parents accountable for the actions of their children, according to Mundy.

“Surely, if the case goes to trial, there will be jurors with children and they’ll reflect on whether parents should be held accountable for the actions of their children,” Mundy said.

“Any time there’s a precedent-setting case, we don’t know how a jury is going to react. Should the case go to trial, it will be very interesting.”

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