The biggest legal question stemming from the Freeman High School shooting was not necessarily who pulled the trigger: It was whether the young man who was caught at the scene, admitted to committing the crime and was caught on video would be tried as a juvenile or an adult.
Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price will give that answer on Tuesday.
After more than a week of testimony that included a highly technical defense presentation of 17-year-old Caleb Sharpe’s possible brain damage and emotional recountings of the terror caused by the shooting itself, Price will make the call at 1:30 p.m.
“I intend to give this matter a great deal of consideration,” Price said.
The judge’s announcement followed closing arguments Monday by Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell and defense attorney Bevan Maxey, who presented each side of the argument about which jurisdiction should hear the upcoming first-degree murder trial of Sharpe.
He was 15 on Sept. 13, 2017, when prosecutors say he took his father’s AR-15-style rifle from a gun safe and hid it inside a duffel bag along with golf clubs. The rifle had a magazine full of 30 rounds, and the duffel bag contained another 140 rounds of ammunition.
Haskell said the boy, who was described as quiet and polite, 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 15-year-old Sam 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.”
Defense attorney Maxey countered 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.
“I ask you not to move this case to adult court. I think that would be in the best interests of Mr. Sharpe and society, instead of just warehousing an individual for most of the rest of his life.”
But Haskell countered that all the discussion of Sharpe’s maturity level could not change the seriousness of the crime. In addition to the murder and attempted-murder charges, Haskell charged Sharpe with 51 counts of second-degree assault for all the students put at risk by the shooting.
He noted that if the case remains in juvenile court and Sharpe is convicted, the teen would be released at age 21 with no strings attached. If he is convicted in adult court, Sharpe would remain in juvenile lockup until age 25 and then be transferred to adult prison.
“The crime is why we are here in the first place,” Haskell said. “Mr. Sharpe deceived everybody. This is the case that cries out for decline (so it is taken to adult court) … not only for Mr. Sharpe to get an additional four years of services, but also protection to the public while that occurs.”
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