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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Judge’s ruling bars defense from arguing ‘diminished capacity’ in Freeman shooting case; trial set for January

Caleb Sharpe, left, confers with his defense attorneys after a hearing in July 2020. Sharpe pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder and assualt charged on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2021, for the 2017 shooting at Freeman High School.   (Jesse Tinsley The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane judge barred Caleb Sharpe from offering a diminished capacity defense for his trial stemming from the Freeman High School shooting.

The decision by Judge Michael Price on Wednesday comes just weeks before Sharpe’s trial scheduled to begin Jan. 18.

In August, Price denied Sharpe’s request to offer an insanity defense, saying the request was “very last minute.” The defense has appealed that decision, among other appeals of pretrial rulings, but the Court of Appeals has yet to consider the case.

Sharpe faces multiple counts including murder and assault stemming from the Sept. 13, 2017, shooting that killed 15-year-old Sam Strahan and injured three others. Price has ruled Sharpe will be tried as an adult, despite being 15 when the shooting took place.

Prosecutor Larry Haskell’s motion to exclude the diminished capacity defense Wednesday came after prosecutors interviewed the defense’s legal expert.

A person with diminished capacity has a mental condition that makes them unable to form specific intent necessary for the commission of a crime. In that interview, Dr. Craig Beaver told the state that some elements of diminished capacity defense were evident during his evaluation of Sharpe, but he concluded that Sharpe’s ability to form intent to commit crimes wasn’t affected, according to Haskell’s motion.

Beaver’s opinion was that Sharpe was insane at the time of the shooting, according to court documents.

From the interview, Haskell said he believes the defense is suggesting Sharpe was suffering insanity with “elements” of diminished capacity, according to the motion.

Haskell argued that diminished capacity is not a “lesser included” defense under insanity and that therefore Beaver’s opinion should be excluded.

In response, Sharpe’s attorney, Anthony Beattie, argued that because the court has already limited the defense to one expert witness, Beaver, excluding his opinion would eliminate testimony on Sharpe’s mental status.

The prosecution used the initial denial of an insanity defense “as a sword to strike down any mental status at the time of offenses evidence altogether,” Beattie argued.

Beattie separately motioned the court Tuesday to reconsider and allow Sharpe to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, arguing Beaver’s recent opinion that Sharpe was insane at the time of the shooting. Beattie said they had to “guess” a defense earlier this year without expert testimony and that the defense is now being punished for their expert’s opinion of insanity.

The defense also argued that Sharpe’s right to present a meaningful defense “demands” he be allowed to plead the insanity defense.

Excluding evidence regarding insanity has “the profound effect of denying Caleb Sharpe a fair opportunity to defend himself,” the motion reads.

Beattie asked the court to allow the insanity plea and push the trial out in order to give prosecutor’s more time to prepare.

Price was unconvinced by the defense and denied their motion to reassert an insanity plea . He also denied a request to delay the trial and urged the attorneys to finalize trial preparations as soon as possible.

Sharpe remains in custody at the Spokane County Jail. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 17. He faces a potential life sentence.