Freeman High School shooter Caleb Sharpe had no major mental illnesses when he opened fire on his classmates nearly five years ago, a psychologist testified Wednesday.
Alexander Duncan, a clinical and forensic psychologist, disagreed with experts for the defense who said Sharpe had diagnosable mental illnesses at the time of the shooting. But he agreed that Sharpe is at low risk to violently reoffend and has shown progress toward rehabilitation since his arrest.
Sharpe was 15 years old on Sept. 13, 2017, when he brought multiple weapons to school and opened fire on his classmates.
He pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, three counts of attempted murder and one count of assault earlier this year. Now 20, Sharpe will be sentenced following court hearings this week in Spokane County Superior Court in front of Judge Michael Price.
Brooke Foley, Sharpe’s public defender, argued that due to his age and immaturity at the time of the shooting, Sharpe should be considered a youthful offender, giving Price the discretion to sentence him below the standard range. Foley asked for a 20-year fixed sentence.
Deputy Prosecutor Sharon Hedlund agreed Sharpe was a youthful offender and that his sentence should be below the standard range, but urged Price to settle on a sentence that would ensure community safety. Hedlund argued a 35-year sentence would be more appropriate along with the requirement that a sentencing review board look at whether Sharpe is likely to reoffend and has been rehabilitated before he can be released.
Duncan was hired by prosecutors to evaluate Sharpe’s mental status at the time of the shooting, his current mental health and his risk to reoffend. He interviewed Sharpe for eight hours over two days this spring.
He diagnosed Sharpe with conduct disorder at the time of the shooting, the name for a group of behavioral and emotional problems characterized by a disregard for others.
Conduct disorder is not a major mental illness, however, Duncan said. For Sharpe, the hallmarks of the disorder were lying, stealing, fire setting and the shooting. Duncan also said Sharpe displayed personality traits like a “callous lack of empathy” and “shallow emotions” as contributing issues.
When asked by the defense about the severity of those problems, Duncan noted Sharpe’s case of conduct disorder wasn’t severe.
Duncan’s diagnosis differs from the one assigned Sharpe by Craig Beaver, the psychologist who testified for the defense and interviewed Sharpe numerous times over the four years since his arrest. Beaver diagnosed Sharpe with major depression with psychotic features at the time of the shooting.
The main psychotic feature was episodes of depersonalization, where Sharpe described feeling out of his body, like he was watching himself do things. Sharpe’s “flat” and “very unemotional” manner when interviewed by law enforcement shortly after the shooting was “classic” depersonalization, Beaver said.
Depersonalization is in the family of dissociative disorders similar to dissociative identity disorder, where people have split personalities. Duncan said he felt Sharpe was “exaggerating” his dissociative episodes, in part because no one else in his life, like his parents or school records, noted them.
Sharpe said he continued to have the episodes in jail, where Duncan said they also were not documented.
He watched the movie “Split” about someone with dissociative identity disorder and “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” a movie about a school shooter. That could have affected the way Sharpe described what he experienced, Duncan said.
At the time of the shooting, Sharpe showed limited empathy and guilt, and had a grandiose sense of self, Duncan said. He also showed obsessive tendencies, something Beaver also noted.
Those obsessions turned to dark topics like school shootings, violent video games and movies, abnormal psychology, and guns in the year or two before the shooting.
Sharpe described his relationship with his parents shortly before the shooting as “decayed,” and that he thought of killing his father, Duncan said.
Jaymi Sharpe, Caleb’s older sister, described their father as “emotionally abusive” and “belligerent” toward her little brother, in an interview with Beaver, he said.
Before the shooting, it was a “dark time” emotionally for Caleb Sharpe, Duncan said.
While the psychologists differ on their diagnoses of him at the time of the shooting, they agree he has shown progress in jail and is at low risk to reoffend.
Still, Duncan said Sharpe shows some concerning traits, like a shallow emotions and continued obsessions.
Since his arrest, Sharpe has become very religious, Duncan said.
He wrote two approximately 250-page books on the biblical characters of Moses and Abraham. He wrote a third book titled “My Teenage Story” on the struggles teens face today, Sharpe told Duncan.
Sharpe’s current obsession with religion has been a positive one, but the intensity should still be noted, Duncan said.
Right now, Sharpe’s conduct disorder is in remission, Duncan said. With mental health treatment while in prison, continued positive support from family and his pastor, and further education, Duncan said he believes Sharpe could grow out of his concerning traits.
Sentencing hearings are scheduled to continue Thursday, when victims will give impact statements.
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