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Spokane judge sets trial date for charged Freeman High School shooter Caleb Sharpe

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 16, 2019

Caleb Sharpe, 17, arrives for his arraignment Friday on 55 charges stemming from the Sept. 13, 2017, shooting at Freeman High School that killed 15-year-old Sam Strahan. Sharpe pleaded not guilty to all charges before Superior Court Judge Michael Price. (Thomas Clouse / SR)
Caleb Sharpe, 17, arrives for his arraignment Friday on 55 charges stemming from the Sept. 13, 2017, shooting at Freeman High School that killed 15-year-old Sam Strahan. Sharpe pleaded not guilty to all charges before Superior Court Judge Michael Price. (Thomas Clouse / SR)

A judge on Friday set an Oct. 7 trial date for accused Freeman High School shooter Caleb Sharpe, but the defense attorney indicated that the trial is likely not to occur in two months.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price arraigned Sharpe, 17, in adult court after he ruled last month that Sharpe should stand trial as an adult for the Sept. 13, 2017, shooting at Freeman that killed 15-year-old Sam Strahan and injured three students.

It took Price about 15 minutes to read all 55 counts, which include a count of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and 51 counts of second-degree assault for all the Freeman students who prosecutors argue were put in danger of the school shooting.

To each count, Sharpe replied: “Not guilty, your honor.”

While Price set the trial date in October, defense attorney Bevan Maxey indicated that the defense likely will request a round of evaluations for the possible defense that Sharpe may not be competent to stand trial or suffered from a diminished capacity at the time of the shooting.

Maxey also indicated that Sharpe’s parents, Benjamin and Erika Sharpe, no longer have to means to continue paying Maxey to represent their son.

“I am here for Mr. Sharpe today, but (the family) will have to get a public defender,” Maxey said.

Price said that news troubled him.

“That is somewhat of a quandary because you know the case so well,” Price said. “It will take time for another counsel to get up to speed.”

The next hearing date is Sept. 9 at 8:30 a.m., when Maxey is expected to file a motion that would sever him from the case.

“They can no long afford private counsel,” Maxey said of Sharpe’s parents. “So something is going to have to change in that regard.”

The arraignment follows a two-week hearing last month where several witnesses described for the first time the terror caused by the shooting two years ago.

According to court testimony and records, Sharpe had been planning the shooting for about two years.

He had researched the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings and told detectives that he flipped a coin on the day before the shooting to decide whether to carry it out.

Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell said in July that Sharpe figured out how to obtain the weapon; made sure his three best friends were not present; picked an entrance that would not attract attention; and fired in a place where he knew the most students would be at that time of day.

“It could not have been better planned by an adult,” Haskell said. “An AR-15 with 30 rounds in it … could have cut through people. It was a miracle the gun jammed and he resorted to the backup weapon.”

Investigators allege that Sharpe also brought a semi-automatic .32-caliber pistol to school that day and used it to twice shoot Strahan and wound three girls.

“His intent was to do a mass shooting. There is no evidence anyone helped in the planning or execution of this plan,” Haskell said. “The effect on this community, your honor, was devastating,” he continued. For the Freeman community “it took apart their innocence and safety and ripped at the souls of all.”

Maxey countered in the declination hearing in July that defense expert Dr. Richard Adler, a forensic and clinical psychiatrist, found that Sharpe’s brain was severely underdeveloped for his age in areas of executive function, problem solving and dealing with impulses.

Instead of a normal 15-year-old, Maxey said Sharpe presented more like an 11- or 12-year-old with a learning disability.

“I think there was something clearly wrong with him at that time,” Maxey said. “The things Mr. Sharpe had, unfortunately, are not discernible until later in life. Because he was polite and could talk well, people thought nothing was wrong.”

Those mental evaluations will likely be part of the defense going forward, Maxey said Friday.

In addition to the trial date, Price set Sharpe’s bond at $1 million and also agreed to a list of release conditions if his parents can somehow come up with the $100,000 needed to get him out of jail.

Those conditions include no contact with anyone under the age of 18, or with Ami Strahan, the mother of Sam, or any of the victims or witnesses expected to be called at trial.

Maxey objected, pointing out that the conditions would prevent Sharpe from interacting with others in juvenile detention, where he is currently housed. “That would require him to be put in isolation,” Maxey said.

Price agreed to amend the release conditions at Maxey’s request and said he would immediately call a hearing if Sharpe is able to post bond to make sure the release conditions are appropriate.

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