Judge will decide if school shooting suspect tried as adult
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A youth charged with shooting four classmates at a high school in Washington state should be tried as an adult because he carefully planned and executed the shootings, the Spokane County prosecutor said Monday.
Closing arguments were held Monday in a weeklong hearing for Caleb Sharpe, 17, who is accused of opening fire Sept. 13, 2017, in a hallway of Freeman High School, killing one classmate and wounding three others.
Prosecutor Larry Haskell argued that releasing Sharpe from custody at age 21 was not appropriate for the crimes involved.
“This was an aggressive, violent, deliberate and a willful crime,” Haskell told Spokane County Superior Judge Michael Price. “This thing was planned.”
Sharpe told law enforcement officers after his arrest that he had thought about the shootings for two years.
“His intent was mass casualties,” Haskell said, calling it a miracle that the AR-15 rifle Sharpe brought from home jammed, forcing the youth to use a handgun.
Sharpe was 15 at the time on the shootings, and he has been in custody since.
He was brought into the courtroom wearing handcuffs and sat quietly during the hearing.
Potential penalties are much stiffer if Sharpe, who will turn 18 in October, is tried as an adult.
Sharpe faces one charge of first-degree premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances in the death of classmate Sam Strahan, plus three charges of attempted first-degree murder for the three girls injured in the shooting. He also faces 51 second-degree assault charges for the other students endangered during the shooting.
Defense attorney Bevan Maxey argued that his client lacked maturity and good decision-making skills, but had never before caused any problems. He said some doctors contended that Sharpe had suffered brain damage as a child that impaired his judgment.
“Juvenile court was designed for juveniles,” Maxey said. “There is the ability to rehab Mr. Sharpe.”
Price will make the decision on whether Sharpe is tried as an adult.
The closing arguments followed a week of often gripping testimony about the shootings that shattered the rural high school just south of Spokane.
School janitor Joe Bowen told of how he confronted the shooter in the hallway and ordered him to lie on the ground, and then pinned him down, likely preventing more casualties.
The Associated Press doesn’t typically name juvenile suspects but is doing so because of the severity of the accusations and because Sharpe’s name was released in public documents.
Prosecutors have argued that Sharpe has not been cooperating or participating in group therapy. The defense has said that the youth is taking his medications.
If Sharpe is tried as a juvenile, he could be incarcerated until he is 21, without further supervision after he is released. If the judge decides to try him as an adult, he can be kept in prison much longer, and eventually released on parole. Last year, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional.