A judge ruled Monday that all the statements Caleb Sharpe gave detectives minutes after the Freeman High School shooting can be used to determine whether he should be tried as an adult.
Jailers led Sharpe, 16, into court Monday bound in handcuffs. He wore a yellow shirt, saggy blue pants and orange slippers. He spoke briefly with his attorney, Bevan Maxey, before Superior Court Judge Michael Price issued his ruling.
Price noted that Sharpe was taken into custody just moments after detectives raced to the rural school after the first call came into dispatch at 10:08 a.m. on Sept. 13.
Price said he reviewed pages of transcripts from the interview Sharpe gave detectives, including the corresponding video inside the school where 15-year-old Sam Strahan was fatally shot in the abdomen and face.
After the shooting that killed Strahan and injured three girls, detectives Scott Bonny and Marc Melville placed Sharpe into a patrol car just across the street from the high school and began to ask him questions at 11:24 a.m. That interview lasted for 84 minutes.
“There is no question that Mr. Sharpe was in custody and he was not free to leave,” the judge said.
Price noted that Sharpe began talking so fast that Detective Bonney told the sophomore he couldn’t keep up with notes and asked to record the conversation, which Sharpe agreed to do.
On the recording, Bonney reads Sharpe his Miranda rights and told him that he could exercise his right to remain silent and to have an attorney present at any time. Asked if he understood, Sharpe said he did, Price said.
“At this point, the interview commences,” Price said. “There is no question that Mr. Sharpe was in custody, so his statement was constitutionally protected. There is also no question that he was read the Miranda rights. There is no question that he appeared to waive his rights and agreed to speak to the detective.”
While Maxey agreed with the judge to the point that Sharpe acknowledged hearing the Miranda rights, Maxey previously argued that his client never agreed to waive them.
“They just said, ‘Do you understand those rights?’ He said yeah. But they don’t ask him if he waived those rights. Understanding those rights is one thing. Waiving them is another,” Maxey said.
“He’s 15,” Maxey continued. “You are dealing with a young person who may not comprehend the significance and the language of the waiver. We believe that one should not presume a waiver of those rights simply because they started asking questions and he responded.”
But Price ruled that the statements can be used based on the totality of the circumstances. And now they can be used in the declination hearing, scheduled for Aug. 13 which will determine whether Sharpe stands trial as a juvenile or adult.
The declination hearing has potential consequences for Sharpe, who faces one count of first-degree murder for the death of Strahan, three counts of attempted first-degree murder for the three injured girls and 51 counts of second-degree assault for all the Freeman students who had fear of great bodily harm that day. It could mean a sentence of years versus a potential life behind bars.
Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell declined to comment following the hearing.
During the short proceeding, Price noted that he listened to the voice recording of the interview to listen to Sharpe’s “voice and inflection. He was not threatened. He was not coerced,” Price said. “At no time did he indicate … that he wanted the interview to stop.
“Mr. Sharpe also offered spontaneous commentary that was not in response to a question,” the judge continued. “He was very courteous and respectful to law enforcement officers. He did not appear to be intimidated by his surroundings.”
Price also spoke to Maxey’s argument about Sharpe’s young age.
“There is a reason that we don’t immediately charge them as adults. Because juveniles are children, they are not presumed to have the intellectual capacity or maturity of adults,” Price said. “So, we don’t treat kids with the same cookie-cutter mentality.”
But Sharpe seemed to have full understanding of the moment, Price said.
“There is no doubt, listening to the interview and reading the transcripts several times, that Mr. Sharpe seemed sophisticated … about the world around him,” Price said. “The court finds the statement made by Mr. Sharpe … shall be fully admissible at the decline hearing and at the time of trial.”
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