A Spokane judge on Friday denied suspected Freeman High School shooter Caleb Sharpe’s request to offer an insanity defense at trial.
“In this case, under this context, this is the very last minute,” Judge Michael Price said, noting the request from Sharpe’s defense team was made shortly before the fourth anniversary of the shooting that killed 15-year-old Sam Strahan and injured three others.
Sharpe’s defense team, seated with the now 19-year-old in Price’s courtroom on Friday, argued it had only been made aware of the possibility of such a defense by their expert witness two weeks ago. Sharpe previously had entered a plea of not guilty and indicated he would pursue a “diminished capacity” defense, an effort to persuade a jury he could not form the mental state necessary to commit the crime.
Sharpe faces multiple counts including murder and assault stemming from the Sept. 13, 2017, shooting. Price has ruled Sharpe will be tried as an adult, despite being 15 years old when the shooting took place.
An insanity defense requires a competency evaluation, and it also requires the defense to notify prosecutors the defense will be used. The law requires the notification to occur within 10 days of an arraignment or if “good cause” is shown. Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Fitzgerald said the late request illustrated a pattern of delay by Sharpe’s defense and that further delay of a trial, scheduled for January, was unacceptable.
“We cannot wait, while students that were in high school for two weeks of freshmen year are now in college,” Fitzgerald said.
Sharpe’s lawyer, Brooke Foley, said the use of the defense would not change the prosecution’s preparation for trial. She also suggested the defense team could ask to move the trial out of Spokane County based on media coverage of the case.
“The continued repetition by the state of the existence of a confession will likely be the basis for a future motion by the defense for a change of venue,” Foley told Price. “The media coverage of this matter has already created headlines of the ‘confessed Freeman shooter,’ and that will likely taint any future jury pool.”
Price said he could understand some of the delay in the case, which he said had been moving at “a snail’s pace,” due to the pandemic and that Sharpe’s defense team took over from private counsel months after the shooting took place. But he denied the plea change request, while also noting the possibility his ruling would be appealed.
“If this is reversible error, well then I guess the Court of Appeals could tell this court that,” Price said. “But that argument isn’t persuasive anymore.”
Sharpe’s defense has already lodged notices of appeal to higher courts for pretrial rulings, including one made about whether the jury could hear Sharpe’s statements shortly after the arrest.
Sharpe remains in custody at Spokane County Jail. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday. He faces a potential life sentence.
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