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Freeman shooter's lawyers seek change of plea to not guilty to by reason of insanity

Court records show the change of plea motion was filed in Spokane County Superior Court on Friday ahead of the teen’s trial set for Jan. 18, 2022.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Defense lawyers for the admitted Freeman High School shooter, Caleb Sharpe, filed a motion to change his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. 

The Freeman shooter faces charges of first-degree premeditated murder with aggravating circumstances, three charges of attempted first-degree murder for the three girls injured in the shooting, and 51 second-degree assault charges for other students endangered during the shooting.  

Court records show the change of plea motion was filed in Spokane County Superior Court on Friday ahead of the teen’s trial set for Jan. 18, 2022.

Cornell Law School defines this change of plea as the defendant claiming they were so mentally disturbed or incapacitated at the time of the offense that they did not have the required intention to commit the crime and are therefore not guilty.  

Jeffry Finer is a criminal lawyer in Spokane. He outlined with KREM 2's Amanda Roley how this type of plea can be particularly challenging. 

"What they're saying is I have an issue that may be a mental defect or it may be some condition that I was under at the time," Finer said. "I could not perceive the nature and the seriousness of what it was I was doing."

According to the motion, the shooter’s new defense attorneys claim they were unaware of his mental status. They said they only became of aware of this possibility after a conversation with Dr. Craig Beaver about the progress of his Forensic Examination report on Sharpe. 

Dr. Beaver is a clinical neuropsychologist who assessed the teen suspect. 

He shared his report with defense lawyers on July 30, 2021 with the opinion that the shooter was legally insane at the time of the offense on September 13, 2017.

In a letter to the judge, Dr. Beaver said he concluded the teen met the elements of Diminished Capacity, but also met all criteria for Insanity at Time of Offense.  

Sharpe shot and killed one student and injuring several others in Freeman High School’s hallway four years ago, according to court documents. He previously admitted to being responsible for the shooting to investigators. 

He was 15 at the time and will soon turn 20.   

Defense lawyers claim in the motion that state prosecutors believe this change of plea is “a shell game, and conducting trial by ambush.” 

However, the defense recognizes this change of plea is significant for both parties. But they argue it does nothing to change the state’s process moving forward.  

Documents say prosecutors will still need to get an expert to form their own opinion of the shooter’s mental status at the time of the shooting, regardless of Dr. Beaver’s opinion specific to insanity.  

If the state chooses to go forward with its own evaluations, this could delay the trial yet again. 

Finer said it is rare a "not guilty plea of insanity" ends in the defendant's favor. Those who are found guilty could end up in a mental institution.

"That person is likely looking at a very lengthy incarceration," Finer said. "It won't be till they are better. It will be a lengthy incarceration because they're guilty of a crime. And they are not being punished because they're not guilty by reason of insanity. But they are removed from society. And sometimes that removal can last decades."

The motion hearing is schedule for Aug. 20, 2021.

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