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Defense: Issues at birth may have led to brain damage in Freeman school shooter

SPOKANE, Wash - A lack of oxygen during childbirth may have led to brain damage in admitted Freeman High School shooter Caleb Sharpe, his defense attorney told the court during a hearing Monday.

Sharpe is undergoing a declination hearing at the end of which a judge will decide if he'll be tried as a juvenile or an adult.

If Sharpe is tried as a juvenile, he could spend a few years in jail. Otherwise, if he's tried as an adult, he faces life in prison. The hearing has been pushed back multiple times since shortly after the shooting in 2017.

Sharpe was 15 in 2017 when he admitted firing gunshots inside Freeman High School. Sam Strahan, a sophomore, was killed and three freshman girls were injured.

In court Monday, Sharpe's attorney focused not on that day, but on the moments after Sharpe was born.

Dr. Samir Keblawi, a board-certified pediatrician, was on the stand and was asked about the possibility of Sharpe having brain damage from a condition called perinatal hypoxia, which is lack of oxygen during birth.

Sharpe's attorney Bevan Maxey argued Sharpe had a heart murmur when he was born and questioned if he got the proper treatment. 

"Caleb Sharpe was not a normal 15 year old," Maxey told the court. "Even less mature, beyond his control." 

But, prosecutors argued Sharpe didn't get any treatment for that because he showed no other signs of complications.

The state focused on Sharpe's Apgar score, which is a neo-natal scoring system based on qualities like muscle tone, skin color and heart rate. Dr. Keblawi testified that Sharpe's score was normal and there was nothing to suggest he didn't get enough oxygen.

This is just one of the issues expected to be addressed during a hearing that could last throughout the week. The school bus driver who took Sharpe to school the morning of the shooting also took the stand Monday.

Sharpe's attorney argued juvenile court is better suited for him and the strides he says his client has made in treatment so far. 

"He is improving as hoped. He's maturing as hoped," Maxey said. "He is performing extremely well in detention."

Court was supposed to resume Tuesday morning, but new information from the defense team's doctor came to light Monday, so the court will be in recess.

Sharpe faces 55 counts in all. 

After his arrest, he told investigators that he was fascinated with school shootings and that he flipped a coin over whether or not to bring a gun to school and open fire. 

Investigators found evidence of possible pre-planning, though, including a diagram of the second floor of the school. They also found notebooks with rambling words and lists of past school shooters. 

He told investigators that he "was not planning on shooting any particular people; he just planned on shooting people in general."

After firing the shots, he was restrained by a school custodian. 



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