Kaylene DeFranceschi stepped out of the court in Clinton overcome by emotion moments after the man accused of killing her husband and two other men was found guilty of murder and will likely be imprisoned for the rest of his life.
An East Feliciana Parish jury on Friday found Ryan Sharpe, an alleged serial killer, guilty of first-degree murder after prosecutors convinced jurors he wasn't insane when he gunned down Brad DeFranceschi, who was trimming weeds in his yard. It was one of four shootings, three of them fatal, he's accused of across East Feliciana and East Baton Rouge parishes.
“I’m glad he couldn’t fool anyone,” Kaylene DeFranceschi said through tears.
Sharpe, 38, was charged with first-degree murder in the October 2017 shooting death of Brad DeFranceschi. Though the trial concerned the death of DeFranceschi, a Boy Scout leader and father of two, prosecutors presented evidence that Sharpe began his killing spree with the July 2017 shooting death of Thomas Bass, 62, and September 2017 shooting of Buck Hornsby, who was wounded while exercising outside.
The Bass and Hornsby cases remain pending.
Sharpe also faces a second-degree murder charge in East Baton Rouge Parish in the September 2017 shooting death of former BREC Commissioner Carroll Breeden Sr. That trial is scheduled for June 2020.
In court Friday, Sharpe stared down at the table and gave no response when the jury returned its verdict. His arms and legs were shackled as law officers escorted him out of the courthouse and brought him to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola ahead of his sentencing by District Judge William G. Carmichael in February. Prosecutors had earlier decided not to seek the death penalty.
The streak of violence in East Feliciana Parish in the fall and summer of 2017 happened within a seven-mile radius of Sharpe's home and put the Bluff Creek area on edge for weeks.
Brad DeFranceschi, 48, like many of the victims was killed while doing yard work in broad daylight on Oct. 9.
Kaylene DeFranceschi described him as a “fearless father” who told her his family shouldn’t live in fear, despite her worries about the streak of seemingly random violence near their home the night before he died.
She testified this week that she was inside helping her 12-year-old son with his schoolwork when she heard a loud crackling noise.
From her window, she watched as her husband fall back and heard another shot. She ran out to him and tried to stop the bleeding from his chest later found to be caused by a shotgun blast.
He died in her arms.
“I felt his soul leave his body,” DeFranceschi said.
In Sharpe’s defense, his father and several friends testified they saw a troubling change in him. They recalled him rambling about "strange" and "farfetched" stories. He stopped having regular crawfish boils at his home and became reclusive.
"We knew something was wrong," said William Russel, a lifelong friend of Sharpe's who spoke through tears. "We didn't know what to do or how to fix it."
Sharpe owned his home on 6 acres near Clinton for the past decade and ran a plumbing business. Russel and other friends who testified at his trial said they thought the shift may have been caused by the stresses of working more jobs after the 2016 floods.
Sharpe's father, Bill Sharpe, a retired police officer who worked at the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, testified that his only son ran a successful business and was a skilled mechanic despite dropping out of school after ninth grade.
Following his son's arrest, Bill Sharpe found months' old checks from customers totaling more than $7,000. He also found that Ryan Sharpe had stopped making payments on plumbing equipment he bought.
Both raised raised concerns about Ryan Sharpe's mental health. "I thought it was quite out of character," Bill Sharpe testified Friday.
Defense lawyer Tommy Damico had offered little argument disputing that Sharpe killed DeFranceschi or shot the other men. Instead, Sharpe's defense had hinged entirely on proving to jurors that Sharpe had a serious mental disorder and couldn’t remember the shootings.
In a video of his interview with authorities presented in court earlier this week, Sharpe told them that State Police and other government agencies ordered him to kill Bass and that he needed to fill a certain amount of "tags" by shooting the other men as part of a "big federal operation."
Psychiatrists for the prosecution who assessed Sharpe, and ultimately deemed him fit for trial, testified this week they had serious doubts he has a mental disorder or an affliction that affected his memory.
Some who testified this week raised suspicions that Sharpe deliberately performed poorly on tests, and if the results were valid, he would have had serious impairments in his day-to-day activities while in a state hospital.
"The hospital thought he was faking mental illness," Dr. Jose Articona, one of six doctors and psychiatrists who examined Sharpe, said this week at trial.
Sharpe’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity put the burden of proof on his defense team to prove to the jury that Sharpe was unable to tell right from wrong.
Marcie Flotte, Breeden’s sister, said in an interview outside the courtroom that she thought the jury might have considered Sharpe’s interview with police, as seen on the video, as a ploy to evade criminal justice.
“You could read right through him,” she said. “His story became more and more absurd.”
Prosecutor Sam D’Aquilla said the confession Sharpe gave investigators was part of his plan to build an insanity defense.
During the killings, Sharpe would circle the men’s homes, scoping them out to make sure no one was home, authorities said. He would also leave his phone at home so investigators couldn’t track it.
"He wanted an easy escape," D’Aquilla said in his closing arguments as a photo of DeFranceschi beamed behind him on a projector. “He knew it was wrong, and he did it.”
Throughout the trial, Sharpe appeared visibly thinner and wearing long hair and a thick beard sat still at the defense table, often staring down at it. He offered no testimony in his defense.
“He showed no remorse for his actions,” said Breeden’s oldest sister, Angie Davis.
The panel of 12 jurors — nine women and three men — returned the verdict within an hour.
Several of the victims’ families erupted in cheers when the jury read its verdict.
The jury's vote was 11-1, which was accepted because the case happened before voters last year approved a constitutional amendment ending split jury verdicts in major felony cases and because the death penalty was not being considered in this case.
Flotte said she attended the trial in East Feliciana Parish in case prosecutors in East Baton Rouge decline to pursue charges in her brother's killing. She said Friday's verdict is an encouraging sign.
“It’s one step closer to justice for ours,” she said.