Trial to de­cide Cap­i­tal Gazette gun­man’s san­ity gets new date

Judge sets pro­ceed­ings for Jar­rod Ramos for March 4 af­ter agree­ing to de­lay

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Alex Mann

Anne Arun­del County Judge Laura Rip­ken set a new date Thurs­day for the trial to de­ter­mine whether the Cap­i­tal Gazette shooter was sane at the time of the mass shoot­ing.

Slated to be­gin March 4, the trial will de­ter­mine whether the Lau­rel man con­victed of mur­der­ing Ger­ald Fis­chman, Rob Hi­aasen, John McNa­mara, Re­becca Smith and Wendi Win­ters is crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble and will serve his time in state prison or be com­mit­ted to a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal. It is ex­pected to last 13 days, ac­cord­ing to on­line court records.

The new trial date comes af­ter at­tor­neys for Jar­rod Ramos asked Oct. 30 for a post­pone­ment, just as they were to be­gin se­lect­ing a jury to de­cide their client’s fate.

Cir­cuit Court Judge Michael Wachs granted Ramos a de­lay, agree­ing his at­tor­neys needed time to re­view re­cently dis­closed records, two days af­ter the 39-year-old pleaded guilty to all the charges he faced: five counts of first­de­gree mur­der, one count of at­tempted first-de­gree mur­der, six counts of first­de­gree as­sault and 11 counts of us­ing a firearm in the com­mis­sion of a felony.

Rip­ken, who is pre­sid­ing over Ramos’ trial, granted his re­quest months ago to split the trial into two parts: one to de­ter­mine whether he was guilty, and if so, a se­cond to de­ter­mine whether he meets Mary­land’s le­gal stan­dards for in­san­ity. Ramos’ guilty plea nixed the first part of the trial — his cul­pa­bil­ity no longer in ques­tion.

Ramos blasted his way through the glass front doors of the Cap­i­tal Gazette news­room June 28, 2018, with a Moss­berg shot­gun, work­ing the pump ac­tion on the long gun and mov­ing about the news­room as if he were hunt­ing.

Eleven em­ploy­ees were present that day, he fa­tally shot five. Two es­caped, while four oth­ers were trapped in the back of the An­napo­lis of­fice be­cause Ramos used a bar­ri­cad­ing de­vice to block the door. Much of the deadly at­tack was cap­tured on se­cu­rity video.

Le­gal ex­perts de­scribed the guilty plea as a savvy move by Ramos’ at­tor­neys, with a jury spared of the weeks of vivid tes­ti­mony and graphic ev­i­dence as­so­ci­ated with a weeks-long trial to de­ter­mine whether he car­ried out the mass shoot­ing.

A new jury will have to de­cide whether Ramos, be­cause of a men­tal dis­ease or dis­or­der, could not un­der­stand that mur­der­ing five news­pa­per em­ploy­ees and leav­ing six oth­ers ter­ri­fied for their lives was wrong or that he couldn’t stop him­self from do­ing it. They’re ex­pected to hear tes­ti­mony from men­tal health ex­perts hired by pros­e­cu­tors and de­fense at­tor­neys.

The trial to de­ter­mine whether a de­fen­dant was le­gally in­sane is some­times re­ferred to by le­gal pro­fes­sion­als as a “bat­tle of the ex­perts,” with each side em­ploy­ing men­tal health ex­perts to sup­port their stance and at­tor­neys ques­tion­ing the mer­its of the op­pos­ing ex­pert’s claims.

Ramos at­tor­neys hired a psy­chi­a­trist, who believes he is not crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble for the deadly shoot­ing. Pros­e­cu­tors hired an­other psy­chi­a­trist, who believes Ramos was and is sane.

A foren­sic psy­chi­a­trist with the Mary­land De­part­ment of Health, or­dered by Rip­ken to eval­u­ate Ramos and give a med­i­cal opin­ion about his san­ity, wrote in a lengthy re­port that he be­lieved Ramos is sane.

Whereas dur­ing a tra­di­tional crim­i­nal trial the bur­den is on pros­e­cu­tors to prove the de­fen­dant is guilty of the charges, it’s the de­fen­dant’s bur­den to prove that he or she was in­sane at the time of the crime. The in­san­ity de­fense is used spar­ingly in Mary­land and is rarely suc­cess­ful.

As part of an un­prece­dented jury selec­tion process for Anne Arun­del County, more than 300 res­i­dents had been called as prospec­tive ju­rors for what was slated to be a two-part trial last­ing at least three weeks. Prospec­tive ju­rors filled out a writ­ten ques­tion­naire be­fore they were to be ques­tioned in per­son by Rip­ken and the at­tor­neys, an un­usual step.

Some 50 ju­rors waited all morn­ing Oct. 30 in an ad­ja­cent court­room as pros­e­cu­tors and Ramos’ at­tor­neys ar­gued be­fore Rip­ken about a pre­trial ev­i­dence shar­ing process known as dis­cov­ery. When Rip­ken ruled against Ramos’ at­tor­neys, the team of pub­lic de­fend­ers rep­re­sent­ing him asked for a de­lay. When Wachs, who han­dles post­pone­ment mat­ters, granted the de­lay, Rip­ken re­leased the prospec­tive ju­rors.

The pool of prospec­tive ju­rors sum­moned for the trial slated to be­gin this week had com­pleted their ser­vice, said Na­dine Maeser, spokes­woman for the ju­di­ciary. As such, Rip­ken, the state pros­e­cu­tors and de­fense at­tor­neys will have to start anew.

The resched­uled trial will make for a busy month in the Anne Arun­del court­house, as two other mur­der tri­als are slated to im­me­di­ately fol­low Ramos’ trial, which is sched­uled through March 20.

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