By the time Spokane County decides whether alleged Freeman shooter Caleb Sharpe should be tried as a juvenile or an adult, he’ll have spent at least 16 months and two birthdays behind bars.
After a delay in August, Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell said Thursday the state will again be requesting another continuance, likely pushing the date of the declination hearing into the new year. Sharpe turns 18 next October.
Unlike previous delays – which attorneys blamed on slow action by the defense team to provide prosecutors with reports from expert witnesses – the latest cause appears to be the elected prosecutor’s unfamiliarity with a document sharing application.
“I think what appears is, it may have been in a Dropbox link they sent over,” Haskell said. “I didn’t know how to open it.”
Haskell said he discovered this week how to properly use it and realized he had access to hundreds of pages of records and interview transcripts from Dr. Richard Adler, a forensic psychiatrist from Seattle, and Dr. Craig Beaver, a forensic neuropsychologist from Boise, who were both hired late last year by the defense to evaluate Sharpe’s mental health.
Haskell said the state would need the extra time to review the records, interview the two experts and decide whether they need to hire an expert of their own.
“Those are lengthy reports and this is a very important hearing,” he said. “We want to make sure we do this to the best of our ability.”
Sharpe, now 17, is accused of walking into Freeman High School on Sept. 13, 2017, and opening fire down a second-floor hallway, hitting three girls and killing fellow classmate Sam Strahan.
After admitting the crime to Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies, the teen was charged the next day with one count of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and 51 counts of second-degree assault relating to the other students in the hallway in danger of being shot.
His attorney, Bevan Maxey, has spent the better part of a year working with expert witnesses, whose findings and reports have not been included in the court’s public record file. The state has not hired an expert.
In May, the court ruled that prosecutors could use more than an hour of a recorded interview between Sharpe and detectives when the teen was questioned inside a patrol car on the Freeman campus minutes after the shooting. Among other pieces of evidence, investigators were told by the teen that he flipped a coin to decide whether to follow through with his plan, which involved bringing a loaded AR-15 rifle and handgun – both owned by his father – to school and firing indiscriminately at students.
Still, Maxey filed a motion on Oct. 5 asking the court to seal the statements and recordings from the public. He argued the majority of Sharpe’s answers to detectives’ questions were “highly sensational and only serve to prejudice Mr. Sharpe in the face of the community.”
Maxey is also seeking to seal surveillance video footage and a series of photographs from the footage, saying they “offer no valuable information to the public and, like the other materials mentioned, would only serve to inflame the public against Mr. Sharpe.”
Multiple requests to reach Maxey on Thursday went unanswered.
The court also recently ruled in favor of the Freeman School District and Strahan’s mother when it quashed a subpoena generated by Maxey’s office that sought the victim’s incident reports, police reports, discipline reports and emails regarding “violation or prohibited” interactions with another student or faculty member.
In its decision, the court found Sharpe and Maxey had failed to provide a significant need for the records. The court said Strahan’s mother, as next of kin to the victim and thus the receiver of the subpoena, is allotted a right of respect and dignity, and that the records are protected by the Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.