Admitted Freeman High School shooter to be tried as an adult
SPOKANE, Wash. — Judge Michael Price decided Tuesday the admitted Freeman High School shooter will be charged as an adult.
Caleb Sharpe admitted to opening fire at Freeman High School in 2017. He was 15 at the time. One classmate, Sam Strahan, was killed and three others were injured.
Sharpe is charged with first-degree murder, three counts of first-degree attempted murder and 51 counts of second-degree assault.
Sharpe told detectives he left the plan, which he had thought about for two years, up to chance.
“Mr. Sharpe’s final determining factor in deciding whether to carry out this attack was a coin toss,” said Price. “A coin toss — to decide if Mr. Sharpe’s Freeman High School classmates would live or if they would die.
“I also know, that but for a fortuitous and perhaps, as Mr. Haskell called it, miraculous jamming of that weapon, when Mr. Sharpe attempted to fire it, we would in all likelihood be dealing with dozens of students and faculty who would likely have been killed or shot,” Price said of the AR-15 Sharpe brought to school that morning, before school custodian Joe Bowen tackled him to stop the shooting.
Price called the ruling “undoubtedly, one of the most difficult decisions” he has ever had to make as a Superior Court judge.
Price announced his decision in court Tuesday after a week of testimony and questioning as part of Sharpe’s declination hearing. Throughout the hearing, Price considered eight Kent Factors, which are standards for determining whether a juvenile suspect will be charged as an adult.
Sharpe’s attorney Bevan Maxey touched on two of the factors frequently throughout the week: sophistication and maturity, as well as prospect for rehabilitation v. protection.
Maxey argued his client was immature at the time of the shooting due to brain damage suffered at birth.
“Caleb Sharpe was not a normal 15-year-old,” Maxey said. “That he was even less mature and more impulsive and cognitively impaired for reasons that were beyond his control.”
Maxey also called a neuropsychologist and neuropsychiatrist to the stand. Both interviewed Sharpe after the shooting. Dr. Richard Adler testified Sharpe has an “extremely low risk for future dangerousness” to the community.
In court, Price said it was clear the one thing all testifying experts agreed on was the development of the juvenile brain, which progresses more slowly than an adult brain.
“We know better because we’re adults,” Price told the courtroom. “Adults know better, children, for the most part, do not.”
Prosecutor Larry Haskell argued Sharpe knew the extent of his actions. He called on Detective Scott Bonney, who interviewed Sharpe immediately after the shooting. Bonney told the court Sharpe said he had been planning the shooting for two years and said, “I know I did something for once and I’m not a failure.”
“One witness after another, after another, after another, testified that they will never be the same and Freeman will never be the same,” Price said. “Who can tell me, who can tell any of us, who can tell the Freeman community that this won’t happen again?”
If Sharpe was considered a juvenile, he would have gotten out of jail in about three years at the age of 21. That possibility gave Price pause.
“The only difference that Mr. Sharpe has been given and would’ve been given by the court if he remained in the juvenile system is more time,” Price said. “More time to analyze his mistakes, more time to perfect his techniques — so that next time, it’s not one person killed and three people shot. Maybe it’s 100. No one can ever say with certainty.”
With Sharpe being tried as an adult, he could face life in prison if convicted. He will return to court on August 16 for his arraignment.
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