‘This is a really bittersweet day’: Jury finds Capital Gazette gunman criminally responsible in Annapolis newsroom shooting
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 during the attack that shocked the tightknit town of Annapolis and therefore culpable for his crimes.
Now, Jarrod Ramos, 41, will almost certainly spend the rest of his life in prison.
Sentencing is expected to occur in about two months, though a date has not been set. Prosecutors have already said they would seek at least five life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The sanity trial spanned 12 days. But it took the jury only about an hour to deliberate.
Before a gaggle of cameras outside the courthouse, Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said the speedy verdict reflected the diligence of prosecutors, the abundance of support from law enforcement agencies and the testimony of mental health experts who said Ramos was legally sane.
“This is a really bittersweet day here in Annapolis,” Leitess said. “It’s the day we’ve been waiting for for more than three years.”
Families of the fallen, survivors and alumni of the newspaper packed the courtroom for closing arguments — and rushed back in as news of the impending verdict spread. Brought together by tragedy, they packed benches in the gallery shoulder to shoulder.
As the 12 jurors walked in, families held hands and took deep breaths. Some clutched containers of their loved ones’ remains.
The verdict yielded a collective sigh of relief.
Family members embraced. They cried.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Paul Gillespie, a photographer who narrowly avoided a shotgun blast, said after court. “I’m glad he’s going to jail.”
Outside the courtroom, they gathered to applaud Leitess and her prosecuting partner, David Russell. Leitess acknowledged the bravery of authorities who responded to the active shooter at 888 Bestgate Road and endured life-altering trauma; some responders had to be reassigned because of what they saw that day. The state’s attorney noted the verdict as an opportunity to heal.
“My dad always said you have to have something to look forward to, and it just feels better now,” Hannah Hiaasen said. “It’s like nothing is shadowed anymore.”
As jurors walked by, having completed their civic duty, another round of applause erupted.
One juror approached some family members and embraced them. They thanked him.
But the juror, who spoke with The Capital later under the condition of anonymity, said he felt compelled to acknowledge their strength to sit through the gruesome trial.
“It was one of the most courageous things I’ve ever seen,” the juror said.
Throughout the 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.
His mental conditions prevented him from appreciating the magnitude of trauma his rampage caused, and that proved he was legally insane, defense attorneys said.
Ramos’ attorneys declined to comment after court.
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 long as Ramos understood it was illegal, which the defense conceded, prosecutors said the jury should find him criminally responsible.
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.
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.
The juror who spoke with The Capital explained the panel considered the testimony of each expert equally. During the brief deliberations, the group reviewed only evidence that hadn’t been presented at trial in its entirety, including the lengthy reports of psychiatrists and psychologists. The juror said nobody on the panel began deliberations with their mind made up.
The jury never doubted Ramos had a mental illness, but, the juror said, the defense didn’t meet its burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that Ramos suffered from a disorder that made him lack the substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law — the two prongs of Maryland’s insanity standard.
“More likely true than not true,” the juror said, “at the end of the day it came down to that.”
For prosecutors and surviving families, the verdict meant more than any legal standard. At trial, Leitess focused on the idea that Ramos reveled in the notoriety that came with his crimes, and she introduced numerous pieces of evidence to show he wanted to leave this as his lasting legacy.
Outside of court, Leitess was adamant that in proving he wasn’t insane, prosecutors prevented the case from turning into the mockery of justice and the media circus Ramos wanted so badly.
Summerleigh Geimer, Winters’ youngest daughter, said she hoped the names of her late mother and her colleagues would live on and become the legacy of this tragedy, not the man who ended their lives.
“I cannot wait to forget his name,” Geimer said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.