About a dozen members of the Breeden family filed into court Thursday and watched in silence as alleged East Feliciana serial killer Ryan Sharpe denied his responsibility for the devastating loss they recently endured.
Sharpe pleaded not guilty in the September 2017 fatal shooting of Carroll Breeden Sr., one of four shootings in the Bluff Creek area — three fatal — that authorities have linked to Sharpe. He has now pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him and awaits trial in both East Feliciana and East Baton Rouge parishes. The death penalty remains a possibility.
Breeden, 66, was gunned down while doing yard work outside his home in Pride. Authorities allege Sharpe shot the former East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park commissioner from a moving vehicle.
Several days before this arraignment, an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury charged Sharpe with second-degree murder in Breeden's killing.
Sharpe, 36, appeared in court Thursday morning wearing an orange East Baton Rouge Parish Prison jumpsuit with his hands and feet shackled. Aside from stating his name and announcing his plea, the defendant sat quietly with his shoulders slightly hunched, intermittently peering around the courtroom but giving no indication that he recognized any members of the Breeden family.
His face remained devoid of emotion as 19th Judicial District Judge Trudy White read through the indictment before asking Sharpe to state his plea.
East Baton Rouge Assistant District Attorney John Russell told the judge he plans to request a mental health evaluation for Sharpe to determine whether the defendant is competent to stand trial. But Russell said he will communicate with prosecutors in East Feliciana before filing, to prevent unnecessary duplication among the cases.
The East Feliciana shootings are being prosecuted as two cases: one on first-degree murder and the other on second-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. Those two cases are expected to run more quickly than the East Baton Rouge case. The two East Feliciana cases are scheduled for trial Aug. 27, though prosecutors will decide which to try first, said 20th Judicial District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla.
Russell said after Thursday's arraignment that he expects the question of sanity will become central to the cases in both jurisdictions.
In addition to determining whether Sharpe is mentally capable of standing trial, the panel of doctors evaluating him could also determine whether he was insane when the crimes occurred. Sharpe could later choose to plead not guilty by reason of insanity despite his initial not guilty pleas.
Russell said he plans to "see what (the panel) says and then look at our options after that." District Attorney Hillar Moore III had said after the East Baton Rouge grand jury on Jan. 24 indicted Sharpe on second-degree murder that "should additional information be developed, it will be considered for other action."
If the panel finds Sharpe mentally incompetent to stand trial, he would receive psychiatric treatment and possibly stand trial later if the treatment improves his mental state.
Defense attorney Tommy Damico, who is representing Sharpe in both his East Feliciana and East Baton Rouge cases, said the prosecution's decision to request a mental health evaluation is unusual because more often the defense will seek that determination.
That decision could suggest some of the evidence against his client is perhaps weaker than originally assumed, Damico said. "I haven't seen all the evidence in the case, but I certainly am getting the feeling — as I suspected from the start — that there are some problems with some of the investigation."
He said he does not anticipate that Sharpe will later plead not guilty by reason of insanity, though information contained within the discovery could change that.
"Obviously it's a very unusual case. The allegations themselves are shocking," Damico said. "So it's important that the public and the prosecutors and everybody doesn't jump to conclusions. … The court system is designed to be deliberate, not speedy, so that people don't make mistakes. That's my job to make sure that no mistakes are made in this case."
Before his arraignment Thursday, Sharpe had already pleaded not guilty in East Feliciana last year to a second-degree murder charge in the fatal July 8 shooting of Tommy Bass, 62, and an attempted first-degree murder charge in the Sept. 12 shooting of Buck Hornsby, 47, who suffered significant injuries but survived. Sharpe then pleaded not guilty last month to first-degree murder in the October fatal shooting of Brad DeFranceschi, 48, also in East Feliciana.
Sharpe called police last October and identified himself as the shooter in those four incidents, which left three men dead in their front yards. Then he led deputies on a lengthy car chase before surrendering. He is now being held without bail. Authorities have not identified a motive, and families of the victims have revealed little to no connection between them and Sharpe.
Carroll Breeden's son Buzz Breeden said his mother worked with Sharpe's father at Exxon for several years. He worked in security and she was the secretary for the security department. But other than that, the two families knew each other only distantly.
Buzz Breeden said after the arraignment that watching Sharpe repeatedly deny his guilt has taken a toll on the Breeden family.
"It's just disheartening that the guy calls the police himself and willfully confesses numerous times — I understand he has his day in court, but to drag all these people here time and time again is just unfortunate," Breeden said. "We're going to have to keep reliving this until it's all over."
He sat in court along with his siblings, uncles and aunts and their families.
The Breedens have also filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Sharpe in civil court. That lawsuit, their attorney Kirk Patrick has said, "really isn't about the money" but about using "every avenue they have to make Ryan Sharpe pay for what he did."