Psychiatrists who assessed the mental condition of alleged serial killer Ryan Sharpe testified Thursday they had serious doubts about his having a mental defect, telling jurors at his trial that he made little effort on tests and never repeated claims once made to police that the government had commissioned him to kill people.

Sharpe, 38, is accused of gunning down three people — killing two — in East Feliciana and another fatal shooting in East Baton Rouge Parish, all within a short distance of his rural home in southern East Feliciana Parish between July and October of 2017.

He is standing trial this week on first-degree murder in the October 2017 shooting death of Brad DeFrancheschi, 48. 

Sharpe is also charged in East Feliciana with second-degree murder in the July 2017 shooting death of Thomas Bass, 62, and attempted first-degree murder in the September 2017 wounding of Buck Hornsby. Those cases remain pending.

Sharpe faces a second-degree murder charge in East Baton Rouge Parish in the September 2017 shooting death of former BREC Commissioner Carroll Breeden Sr., 66, who like DeFranceschi was killed while doing yard work. That trial has been delayed until June.

Three medical doctors who examined Sharpe months after his 2017 arrest testified at the trial in Clinton they could not find that he had a mental illness following a battery of tests and interviews with psychiatrists.

"The hospital thought he was faking mental illness," said Dr. Jose Articona, one of a handful of psychiatrists who examined Sharpe.

Many of the doctor's doubts relate to strange statements Sharpe gave to police after he was arrested.

In a video of his interview with authorities, presented in court earlier this week, Sharpe tells them that federal officials, the military and "the richest man in the country," had instructed him to shoot his first victim, Thomas Bass, and subsequently others as part of a big operation.

Doctors who testified said that, in their time reviewing Sharpe's mental condition, he made no other mention of his arrests, the operation he mentioned or the shootings which required him to fill "tags" like those used in hunting for each person he killed.

He added that most people who suffer from delusions tend to continue believing them. "You would expect to see those delusions again over time," Articona said.

Defense lawyer Tommy Damico said Sharpe couldn't remember the shootings and has a major mental disorder. Sharpe's friends and family had become increasingly worried about his erratic behavior months before the killings, Damico said.

Sharpe has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

The doctors who testified said the results of memory tests also would have indicated diminished day-to-day functions, and hospital staff would have seen signs of that while he was at the hospital.

Articona said he and other evaluators suspect Sharpe gave little to no effort when taking the tests.

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"He didn't try," Articona said.

He added that doctors suspected that Sharpe could have been in a psychotic state from drug use, but friends and family told them they never saw him use. "The other possibility I considered was he made it up," Articona said.

Damico questioned the accuracy of psychiatry and previously dismissed doctor's findings on Sharpe as "guesses and opinions."

The burden of proof in an insanity case rests entirely on Sharpe and hinges on whether jurors believe he couldn’t tell right from wrong.

Prosecutors have argued that he knew what he was doing was wrong, and the doctors who reviewed him agreed.

They've said Sharpe tried to conceal himself from being tracked by leaving his phone at home and circled the dead men’s homes several times to avoid being spotted by others.

Sharpe planned to surrender to authorities and plead insanity to avoid justice, prosecutor Sam D'Aquilla said.

Earlier Thursday, DeFranceschi’s widow testified through tears that she felt her husband's "soul leave his body" as he died in her arms after being shot.

Kaylene DeFranceschi took the stand after prosecutors played the frantic 911 call she made Oct. 9, 2017. Her husband, a leader in the Boy Scouts, had been trimming weeds at their home when she heard several gunshots. She peered out the window to see her husband falling back.

She said she saw a white car near her husband and realized her husband had fallen victim to the latest in a series of seemingly random shootings that put the Bluff Creek area on edge for weeks.

"He sat there a while," DeFranceschi said. "I feel like he was making sure Brad was done."

DeFranceschi said the night before the shootings women in the community had uneasy about their husbands working alone outside following the streak of shootings.

When she approached her husband about it, she remembered him tell her: "You can't live your life in fear."

DeFranceschi was the only witness to testify who saw the shooting.

Sharpe hasn't testified, and it's not clear if he plans to. His lawyer will present his witnesses and evidence Friday, likely the final day of the trial before attorneys hand the case to the jury.

A conviction or an acquittal requires a 10-2 decision because the case began before voters last year approved a constitutional amendment ending split jury verdicts.


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com.