ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Three years and 17 days after the mass shooting, an Anne Arundel County jury ruled Thursday the man who killed five Capital Gazette employees was sane, and therefore criminally responsible, during the attack that shocked the tight-knit town of Annapolis and that he is culpable for his crimes.
Their verdict brings closer to a conclusion the legal case stemming from the June 28, 2018, murders of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. Six people survived the attack, which has been billed as the deadliest attack ever on an American newsroom.
Now, Jarrod Ramos, 41, will almost certainly spend the rest of his life in prison. At sentencing, prosecutors are seeking at least five life sentences without the possibility of parole.
His trial had been delayed more than half a dozen times. First it was postponed as he and his lawyers explored the rarely utilized insanity defense. Then, one of the public defenders withdrew from the case because of health concerns. Another delay happened after he pleaded guilty to every count in the indictment. And again, twice, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The sanity proceeding officially began one day after the third anniversary of the shooting — and about a decade after his and the paper’s paths first crossed.
At trial, Ramos’ attorneys argued he was insane at the time of the crime because a combination of mental conditions led him to become obsessed with the newspaper after it covered his 2011 harassment conviction and developed delusions that the courts were persecuting him, too, as they rejected a deluge of defamation lawsuits and repeated appeals.
Prosecutors contended Ramos was a calculated and callous criminal who killed because he wanted revenge, not because he was mentally ill. They said he never got over the article about him because of his narcissistic personality. He’d fantasized about attacking the paper since 2013, but began plotting his strike meticulously after the courts rejected his last appeal in 2016.
As predicted, the case hinged upon the conflicting testimony of mental health experts: Four psychiatrists, three psychologists and a neurologist testified at Ramos’ trial.
Dr. Sameer Patel, a forensic psychiatrist with the Maryland Department of Health who evaluated Ramos for the court, and Dr. Gregory Saathoff, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia and for the FBI who prosecutors retained, stepped up to the stand to say Ramos was sane. Their opinions cited overwhelming evidence of planning and lawful behavior ahead of the awful attack.
A psychiatrist who dedicated decades to studying the country’s most violent criminals, Dr. Dorothy Lewis served as the outlier. Ramos couldn’t have pursued the insanity plea without her opinion.
She diagnosed Ramos with obsessive compulsive disorder, delusional disorder and autism spectrum disorder. Lewis said the first disorder allowed him to become fixated, the second prompted him to lose touch with reality and the latter prevented him from appreciating the extent of pain he caused.
Prosecutors raised doubts during Lewis’ testimony that she understood the legal insanity standard in Maryland. Judge Michael Wachs acknowledged he wasn’t convinced but said he wouldn’t strike her testimony because of the possibility of an appeal.
Ramos’ own sister testified at trial. Michelle Jeans offered one of the few looks into his mostly isolated life. She told of how her already awkward brother became consumed by clearing his name via the courts and estranged from the rest of the family — including her, eventually.
But survivor after survivor of the shooting stepped up to the witness stand, saying how Ramos moved methodically about the office suite like a man on a mission. They recalled witnessing their colleagues die and holding their breath beneath desks in fear that they’d face the next blast from the barrel of his tactical shotgun.
Patel’s testimony proved pivotal. Having spent more time with Ramos than any other expert, he provided haunting details about the gunman’s motivations, his chilling thoughts during the attack and the extent to which he went to ensure he wouldn’t get hurt by responding police officers. Patel said there existed no mental health condition that could excuse his conduct.