Sanity trial of Capital Gazette shooter likely among cases suspended by Maryland Judiciary amid coronavirus surge

The Capital Gazette shooting trial appears to be slated for a delay, again, as the Maryland Judiciary issued an order Thursday re-suspending all jury trials amid the fall surge of the coronavirus.

All criminal jury trials scheduled to begin between Monday and the end of the year, for which juries have not been selected yet, have been suspended, according to the latest restrictions ordered by Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals.


While a postponement has not yet been docketed in court records for the Capital Gazette case, it fits the criteria outlined in the latest order.

Barbera’s re-suspension of jury trials, which had only just resumed Oct. 5, was just the latest effort from various levels, and branches, of government to subdue the surge.


“The COVID-19 emergency has continued, with recent significant increases in infection rates across Maryland, requiring the suspension of certain judicial functions until COVID-19 once again is suppressed to a level that allows their resumption, with safeguards as advised by (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maryland Department of Health," her latest order states.

After restrictions successfully slowed the spread, the virus returned with a vengeance this fall, as Maryland has recorded more than 1,000 new cases of the respiratory disease daily for nine days consecutively. Hospitalizations and infections requiring ICU care have spiked, as well, and the virus had killed at least 4,000 people in Maryland as of Thursday morning, health department data shows.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday tightened coronavirus restrictions statewide, saying the state was in a “danger zone” with the virus.

County Executive Steuart Pittman, unhappy with Hogan’s statewide mandates, on Thursday joined the ranks of county leaders taking it a step further. He announced a range of restrictions. He slashed the number of people acceptable at social gatherings, reduced bar and restaurant capacity and canceled youth sports operated by his Department of Recreation and Parks.

“We really are in a war with this virus...” Pittman said.

Since March, the courts have shown an ability to adjust operations to accommodate for coronavirus restrictions. Lawyers, and sometimes, judges were allowed to call in for certain hearings.

Under Phase III of the courts reopening plan, which Barbera has resorted to, the courts will still hear a range of matters. In Circuit Court, criminal bench trials, status hearings, and sentencing, motions and probation hearings will be heard, among a host of family and civil case functions.

The trial for the man convicted of murdering Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters on June 28, 2018, was slated to begin with in-person jury selection on Dec. 1. Prospective jurors had already been summoned to the courthouse to complete a preliminary questionnaire.


Jarrod Ramos pleaded guilty to the murders and 18 other crimes more than a year ago. All that remains to be determined is whether the 40-year-old was sane or not at the time of the mass shooting, and if he’ll spend the remainder of his life in a state prison or is committed indefinitely to a secure psychiatric facility.

The trial had already been postponed a number of times because of legal matters and unforeseen circumstances that infringed upon the case. It was also rescheduled once because of the pandemic, back in April.

At the time, State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess issued a statement about the effects of delays on crime victims and their families. She said it’s stressful for everyone involved, as they’ve been preparing for their time in court.

The Capital Gazette case is unique in that the latest delay will prolong justice beyond two and a half years from the day Ramos blasted into the newsroom with shotgun and shocked the close-knit community of Annapolis.

In June, family members of the fallen reminisced on milestones that had come and gone over two years and discussed how the grief persisted.

Leitess, who is prosecuting the mass murder case, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.


The news could come as a surprise to the attorneys involved in Ramos’ case, two prosecutors and three public defenders. Ramos' team filed on Sunday a motion to limit who can testify at his trial. On Tuesday, one of the teams of attorneys — it’s unclear which from online records — put on file the questions they wanted Circuit Judge Laura Ripken to ask prospective jurors over three days of jury selection.

Delays also weigh on the people awaiting trial behind bars, like Ramos, who’s is being held at the Jennifer Road Detention Center without bail.

When jury trials were first suspended for the coronavirus, the late District Public Defender William Davis said his office’s clients who are in pretrial custody were anxious about contracting coronavirus and frustrated because they’ve been waiting for an opportunity to prove their innocence.

Jacovi Devaughn Johnson, a man facing murder charges stemming from the fatal shooting of James Antonio Diggs IV, 29, at a Glen Burnie pool party in July 2019, will also have to wait for an opportunity in court. His trial was also slated to begin Dec. 1.

So too was the case of Thomas Stemen, a man charged with assault after authorities said he attacked women with syringes in Churchton. Police found syringes in Stemen’s car and test results revealed they were filled with semen.

Also postponed was a trial scheduled for Dec. 15 stemming from what authorities described as rare instance of stranger rape. Zaon Cox allegedly broke into a residence in Odenton and sexually assaulted a sleeping woman.


With Barbera’s order having been in effect for just a few hours, none of the cases have been rescheduled. She ordered administrative judges for Circuit Courts to reschedule the suspended trials "as promptly as feasible beginning Jan. 4.”

This article will be updated.