Robert Crimo Jr. knew that his young son had threatened violence in the family home, promising to “kill everyone,” prosecutors said. The son, Robert Crimo III, had expressed interest in committing a mass shooting in an exchange with a camp counselor and later sent text messages suggesting that he wanted to end his own life.
Despite these warning signs, prosecutors said, in late 2019 the elder Mr. Crimo sponsored his son’s application for a state gun ownership permit, a step that was required for his son to receive the permit because of his age, 19 at the time. More than two years later, the younger Mr. Crimo opened fire on a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill., the authorities said, killing seven people and injuring others with a rifle that his father had provided a crucial hand in his acquiring.
On Monday, Robert Crimo Jr. pleaded guilty to seven misdemeanor counts of reckless conduct for his role in helping his son own firearms in Illinois, a plea that prosecutors described as a significant step in holding people accountable for their roles in perpetuating gun violence in the United States.
“This was a permission slip for his son to buy an assault rifle,” Eric Rinehart, the top prosecutor in Lake County, Ill., said after the plea agreement was announced. “And when he signed this permission slip, he knew exactly how dangerous it was for this 19-year-old to have a weapon.”
When the elder Mr. Crimo sponsored the application for the gun permit, he made a “reckless and dangerous” decision that enabled the mass shooting in Highland Park in 2022, Mr. Rinehart said. The younger Mr. Crimo was 21 at the time of the shooting and remains in jail, awaiting a trial date. He has pleaded not guilty.
The father’s plea deal was announced in a Lake County courtroom on Monday morning, at the time when the elder Mr. Crimo was expected to begin a trial lasting several days.
Under the terms of the agreement, which was negotiated during last-minute discussions on Sunday, Mr. Crimo will serve 60 days in jail, two years of probation and 100 hours of public service. He will be required to surrender his own guns, ammunition and his permit to own firearms. In the future, Mr. Crimo will not be allowed to sponsor an application for a gun permit, as he did for his son.
The sentence was significantly lighter than what a guilty verdict could have brought had the case gone to trial. Mr. Crimo was facing seven felony charges, which could have carried a sentence of up to three years in prison.
The plea deal reflected a sense of urgency from prosecutors to ensure a conviction in a case that relied on a relatively untested legal strategy. The timing of the shooting also complicated prosecution of the case: More than two years had passed between the sponsorship of the gun permit and the shooting at the parade, leaving open the possibility that a court might decide that there was not enough of a direct connection between the two events.
Mr. Rinehart acknowledged as much when he spoke to reporters in the courthouse, saying that it was important that prosecutors had “laid down a marker” of accountability in the case.
“The risk of potentially losing this innovative prosecution, and not putting down any marker, was too great for our trial team,” he said.
Mr. Crimo declined to comment as he left the courtroom. He is expected to begin his jail term on Nov. 15.
His lawyer, George M. Gomez, said that the plea agreement was reached in part because of a desire to spare Mr. Crimo’s family and the community more distress. Mr. Crimo was also concerned that his son might not receive a fair trial because of evidence disclosed in his own trial this week, Mr. Gomez said.
As the elder Mr. Crimo’s trial date grew closer, Mr. Gomez said on Monday, it appeared that “the state’s strategy required pitting Mr. Crimo’s family against each other.”
“Mr. Crimo ultimately did not want his family to be more torn apart on the public stage than it already is,” Mr. Gomez said.
Mr. Crimo was also concerned that his trial would be a “public spectacle” for the Highland Park community.
“My client believes that it is in the best interest of his family and the community not to publicly relive the tragedies of the Fourth of July shootings, especially in a public trial,” Mr. Gomez said.
Mr. Rinehart said that the plea deal was reached after consulting with families of the victims of the shooting in Highland Park.
The legal approach echoes a strategy that was taken in cases after at least two other shootings in recent years. When a 15-year-old in Michigan was accused of slaughtering four classmates in 2021, his parents were charged with involuntary manslaughter; they have pleaded not guilty and will stand trial in January. After a 29-year-old man went on a killing spree at a Waffle House in Nashville in 2018, the man’s father, an Illinois resident, was convicted of illegally providing the gun used at the restaurant.
Daniel Webster, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, said that it remains rare for prosecutors to bring charges against people who help arm those who commit gun violence.
“The really critical question of the meaning of this, in my view, anyway, is will other prosecutors follow suit?” he said.
Illinois has some of the strictest gun restrictions in the country, requiring that firearms owners obtain a gun permit called a firearm owner’s identification card, which is issued by the Illinois State Police. This year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed into a law the Midwest’s broadest set of gun restrictions: a ban on certain high-powered guns, including AR-15-style rifles.
Richard Pearson, the executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, an organization that supports gun rights, said that parents who wish to sponsor their children’s gun ownership applications should make proper judgments about the safety of that decision.
If someone wants to sponsor their child’s gun permit, he said, “You should be able to do that. You have to do it responsibly.”
The elder Mr. Crimo, prosecutors said, ignored obvious signs that his son was capable of violence: In 2019, months before the state gun permit was acquired, a family member contacted the authorities, reporting that the younger Mr. Crimo had threatened to “kill everyone.” Police officers removed 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from the home but decided that there was not probable cause to arrest him at that time.
Brendan F. Kelly, the director of the Illinois State Police, said that the prosecution of Robert Crimo Jr. “sends a very strong message in a way that’s unprecedented in the history of our state.”
“You may not be the person pulling the trigger, you may not be the person with the firearm, but you could be held accountable for that conduct,” he said.
Maia Colemancontributed reporting.