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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Caleb Sharpe will get public defender in Freeman school shooting case

Caleb Sharpe, 17, is handcuffed and led away from court  Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, after Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price allowed defense attorney Bevan Maxey, standing, to withdraw from the case. Price ruled that Sharpe, who is charged with first-degree murder stemming from the Sept. 13, 2017, shooting at Freeman High School, will now be defended by the Spokane County Public Defender's Office. At left is Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Kelly Fitzgerald. (Thomas Clouse / sr)

A judge on Wednesday allowed a Spokane attorney to withdraw from the defense of accused Freeman High School shooter Caleb Sharpe at the request of Sharpe’s parents.

Tom Krzyminski, the director of the Spokane County Public Defender’s Office, said last week that he expects to take over the defense of Sharpe, 17, who is charged with first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and 51 counts of second-degree assault stemming from the Sept. 13, 2017, shooting at Freeman High School that killed 15-year-old Sam Strahan.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price said earlier and repeated Wednesday that he had hoped defense attorney Bevan Maxey would continue with the case after Price ruled in July that Sharpe would stand trial as an adult.

“To be frank, I prefer you not withdraw and remain … because of your wealth of knowledge of the case,” Price told Maxey. “I thought the work you’ve done has been superlative. But the county is not going to pay for private counsel. I’m appointing the public defender’s office immediately.”

Price previously set the case for trial for Oct. 7, which Maxey said privately and in court is a date that is not realistic given the severity of the case and the expected number of experts who could testify.

Price set the next hearing for Sept. 20.

Maxey said Benjamin and Erika Sharpe already owe his office a substantial sum.

“I work in a small firm,” Maxey said. “I cannot sustain this on my own. I can’t do a trial of this length without compensation. The public defender’s office is there for a reason.”

Price said that he understood and ruled that Sharpe, who is a juvenile and can’t work while in jail, is clearly indigent and qualifies for an attorney paid by the county.

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Kelly Fitzgerald noted that it was Price’s discretion whether to allow a defense attorney to withdraw. She noted that Strahan’s mother, Ami Strahan, was listening to the hearing by telephone.

“The victims and victims’ families are anxious to proceed and have a measure of closure,” Fitzgerald said. “The state will ask for the delay to be as brief … as possible.”

Sharpe is charged in connection to the shooting that occurred two years ago just after classes had begun for the day at Freeman. The shooting was captured on video and Sharpe gave a detailed confession just minutes after he was taken into custody, detectives testified and wrote in court records.

Prior to the shooting, Sharpe obtained an AR-15-style rifle from his father’s gun safe and hid the gun, along with 20 boxes of ammunition, in a duffel bag that also contained golf clubs, according to records. As soon as he got off the bus at Freeman, Sharpe walked up to the second floor and pulled out the rifle, which jammed when he tried to load it. Sam Strahan walked up to Sharpe as he tried to unjam the weapon and Sharpe shot him in the stomach and the face before shooting into a crowd and injuring three girls.

The week prior to the shooting, Sharpe handed two notes to students with instructions not to open them until the next day, according to testimony. The students handed the letters over to school officials, who pulled Sharpe from school and ordered him to obtain a mental evaluation before he returned.

According to court testimony, Sharpe told a counselor that he was having thoughts about “school destruction” and that he had been watching documentaries about other school shootings. He also wondered aloud whether a normal person could make napalm. But the counselor did not warn authorities, and the report detailing Sharpe’s thoughts was not written until after the shooting.