When Donald Andrew Sharp graduated high school, he left his home in Huntington, W.Va., to move in with his cousin John and his family in Port Orange in 2019, and in May 2021, to a large P-Section house in Palm Coast.
Sharp, known in his family as Andrew, was supposed to attend a motorcycle mechanic trade school in Orlando. He barely did did, for less than two months. He did not hold a job outside the house. Instead, when John and his wife separated, Sharp became the live-in nanny for John’s four children. (John’s and all his family’s names have been changed in this article.) Sharp turns 23 in a few days.
In opening arguments this morning of a trial expected to take most of the week, the prosecution described Sharp as a babysitter turned scheming predator who repeatedly raped his 8-year-old cousin Karley and used her slightly older brother Drake as a scapegoat by training him to molest her, too. Sharp would tell Drake that if Drake ever told on him, he’d have Drake arrested.
All the allegations refer to the year between May 2021 and May 2022, when Karley was 8 and 9, and Drake was 11 and 12. That June John separated then divorced his wife, and by Thanksgiving his new partner, Rosa, had moved in, along with her 5-year-old daughter. Life continued, with Sharp living in the only one of the five bedrooms located upstairs, and the rest of the family in various rooms downstairs. John and Rosa were entirely unaware of the alleged, chronic abuse Karley and Drake were enduring.
In mid-2022 John had asked him to find a job, help with the bills, since John’s new wife was taking care of the children. Sharp didn’t. John sent his cousin back to West Virginia in June 2022.
As the children were playing with Rosa some weeks later, they asked whether he was returning. Rosa told them he wasn’t. The children were relieved. They didn’t want him back. Rosa was curious as to why. The children described him as a “bully” and as “mean.”
Then, out of the blue, Karley tells Rosa: “He was inappropriate with me,” Rosa testified this morning. Rosa took Karley away from her siblings so they could talk in private. Karley then described what Sharp would do to her. Later, Rosa learned of Drake’s abuse of his younger sister, at Sharp’s direction.
She summoned her husband–who worked in Daytona Beach. He came home, they called the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, and by mid-August, investigators had a long video-recorded interview of Karley with a Child Protection Team investigator, where she describes the alleged abuse in detail, and two-hour “controlled call,” between John and Sharp, when Sharp was unaware that detectives were listening, and another three-hour interview between detectives and Sharp at his home in Huntington.
In both his interviews, Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark told the jury this morning, Sharp admits he carried out the acts he’s accused of, including oral, vaginal and anal assaults on the younger girl. He was arrested in late August in West Virginia, and brought to the Flagler County jail on Sept. 4, 2022, where he has been since. He is being tried on seven charges, including five capital felonies, though the state could not seek the death penalty in this case because the alleged abuse predates the enactment of a new law in Florida that makes people accused of such crimes eligible for the death penalty. That leaves Sharp facing six life-felony counts (meaning that he would be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty on any one of them) and a first degree felony charge with a 30-year prison term.
The capital felonies are five counts of rape by an adult, of a victim younger than 12, as well as principal to rape–meaning that Sharp procured a child for sexual abuse, in this case at her brother’s hands.
So the prosecution has Sharp’s confessions, which the jury was to hear today in full (the planned to play all seven hours of recorded interviews with Karley and Sharp between this afternoon and tomorrow). Both Karley and Drake testified this morning with devastating effect–not just because of what they said, but because of the way they said it, and the way they came across to the jury. They seemed bewildered, tortured with embarrassment and discomfort, Drake was clearly angry for having to be there–Sharp watching him from behind his forest of a beard a few feet away at the defendant’s table–but neither was dishonest or unknowing. (Both children are medicated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.)
With all that, the case appears to be all on the prosecution’s side, the more so since Spencer O’Neal, who is representing Sharp, did not offer an opening argument this morning–not yet, anyway: he is reserving it for a later portion of the trial, when the defense’s case will made clearer. But based on the questions O’Neal asked witnesses today, it appears the defense will seek to shift the blame to Drake, make him look like the only assailant, while raising doubt about Karley’s veracity.
For defense attorneys having to scale that high a mountain of evidence, it’s not an uncommon blame-the-victim approach. They just don’t call it that, though Clark is usually quick to do so in objections or in her arguments to the jury. As for Karley’s rather sharply detailed descriptions of the rapes she endured (she never uses the word, and melted in abashment at the mere necessity of saying the word “butt” or “thing,” when she was referring to Sharp’s penis), she had also sounded unsure in reply to several questions from either O’Neill or Clark, to the point that Clark had to replay segments of Karley’s Child Protection Team interview to refresh her memory. That’ll give O’Neill the room for doubt he is seeking from the jury, though it’s very small room.
The defense cannot easily overcome the effect of the children’s testimony. Karley is a tiny person who walked into the courtroom holding the plush white dog a victim’s advocate had given her. She wore glasses, she smiled, she took the stand confidently enough, but little by little tried to make herself even smaller than she is (she is only 11), covered her face with the dog, and at one point literally disappeared beneath the stand. Whether she’d dropped the dog or was just hiding for a moment was impossible to tell, and irrelevant: she was doing everything she could to disappear. But little by little, she also answered the attorneys’ questions. She described the where and the how of Sharp’s assaults, and she described with incomprehension what would happen as Sharp would rape her orally. He would give her extra time on the Xbox or TV time in exchange.
She also testified to this odd detail: Sharp would time the encounters, until his moment of satisfaction, which he seemed never to deny himself.
Drake, now 13, was a lanky boy who seemed to have recently had a growth spurt. He appeared in white shirt and tie, and made it very clear that he did not want to be there, at one point telling O’Neill: “Let’s get this over with, and go home.” He had to ask for a break when the prosecutor’s questions got detailed as to how Sharp was directing him against his sister, where Sharp stood in the room, whether the abuse stopped when Sharp left (it did).
But O’Neill also elicited exactly the sort of testimony he was seeking from Karley: “Did Drake touch you before Andrew touched you?” he asked her.
“Yeah,” she replied.
But Drake isn’t on trial, and the timing of Drake’s alleged acts doesn’t change Sharp’s confessions or Karley’s testimony
The prosecution had offered Sharp, who is expected to testify, 40 years in prison before the trial. He declined. The trial is expected to continue through much of the week.