xml:space="preserve">
The Anne Arundel County courthouse in downtown Annapolis will be the venue for one of the most high-profile cases in Maryland history, The Capital Gazette mass shooting trial.
The Anne Arundel County courthouse in downtown Annapolis will be the venue for one of the most high-profile cases in Maryland history, The Capital Gazette mass shooting trial. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Visitors walk past the wrought iron gate to enter the Anne Arundel County courthouse, under the brick archway and through the white-washed double doors at the building in downtown Annapolis.

Inside they are met by three deputy sheriffs who push their wallet, keys and phone through an x-ray machine as they walk through a metal detector. If the detector beeps, a deputy used a wand to find whatever set it off — usually something like spare change.

Advertisement

On their walk through the building, they might be met by a police K-9 team. They will pass security cameras that dot the inside and outside of the building.

That’s a normal day.

But starting Oct. 30 with jury selection, it will be anything but normal. The massive courthouse, parts of which date to the early 1800s, will be the site of a trial in the deadliest attack on journalism in the history of the United States.

Law enforcement officials say they’re ready for a three-week trial expected to draw national attention, taking the same steps they would for any high profile case.

“There are plenty of cases where, through intelligence-sharing, we believe there might be some bad actors who might be wanting to come to court,” said county Sheriff Jim Fredericks, whose agency oversees courthouse security. “So, the preparation levels won’t be different. It just has to be tailored specifically to the type of case you’re dealing with.”

Another pre-trial motions hearing is set for Monday in the trial of the man charged with the murder of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. Jury selection, which will draw from a pool of 300 people, is expected to the following week. The trial itself is scheduled to start Nov. 4.

Deputies will be stationed at entrances to handle members of the media members, family members of the victims, survivors of the attack and others expected to fill the courthouse for one of the most high-profile trials in county history. Jarrod Ramos, 39, case faces five counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, six counts of first-degree assault, among a host of other charges.

The court will handle the high volume of visitors by deploying additional deputies and opening multiple security lanes at court entrances to improve efficiency, Fredericks said.

“Us being able to do our job a little more efficiently there is going to make it a little bit safer place,” he said.

The court does have policies and procedures in place for high-profile trials but the logistics specific to the Capital Gazette trial are still being finalized, Maryland Judiciary spokeswoman Nadine Maeser wrote in an email.

Courtroom 4C, where Circuit Court Judge Laura Ripken will preside over the trial, has a maximum capacity of 200. News media organizations have asked for an overflow room.

Maintaining order in the courtroom are essential to ensuring the trial proceeds like any other, said Ron Bateman, who served three terms as sheriff until December 2018.

Other high profile cases have included the 2012 trial of former county executive John Leopold on abuse of power charges, the 2014 trial of a New Jersey police officer charged with homicide in a road rage incident and the 1984 trial of Larry Schartz, who was convicted of killing his parents in Cape St. Claire.

In some cases, the court has increased its K-9 rounds in the courthouse, especially on the floor where the courtroom is located, Bateman said. But a trial that draws widespread attention doesn’t change how deputies operate day-to-day.

Advertisement

“The deputy sheriffs that are assigned to the courthouse are extra vigilant even on the calmest days,” he said. “It’s not like they jump up the vigilance ... because of a special trial going on. We trained our deputies to be like that all the time.”

As the trial draws closer, the court will be able to better plan for security arrangements based on other judge’s caseloads during the weeks of the trial, Fredericks said.

While many aspects of visiting the courthouse will remain the same, visitors may notice stricter enforcement of the long-standing policy prohibiting the use of cellphones and cameras in the courtroom during the trial, Fredericks said.

The enforcement is essential in part because of expansive media coverage the trial is expected to garner from major news organizations such as the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and television networks.

News organizations with satellite trucks will be given the courtesy of parking outside the courthouse as long as they don’t block traffic or impede emergency vehicles, Fredericks said.

In a statement, New York Times national editor Marc Lacey said, “This is a big national story and we cover big national stories.”

Annapolis police have no special plans during the trial, but the department is always available if the situation changes, a city police spokeswoman said. Anne Arundel County police will have a presence in the area as well.

The sheriff’s office has also completed training sessions during off-hours to prepare for emergency situations such as confronting an individual with a weapon who enters the courthouse, Fredericks said but the likelihood of an event like that is low.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement