The Capital Gazette gunman was a deeply deranged man who thought he was justified in killing five innocent people who had nothing to do with his longstanding grudge because of overwhelming obsessions and deep-rooted delusions, defense attorneys say.
Prosecutors countered he gunned down Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters for revenge related to the years-old slight to his oversized ego, not mental illness. He plotted his attack for years, blasted into the newsroom and methodically killed in cold blood — evidence of his sanity, they said.
It’s was up to a jury to determine which narrative to believe about Jarrod Ramos, and whether or not he was insane at the time of the crime. Their decision about whether or not the 41-year-old is criminally responsible will determine whether he’s sent to a psychiatric hospital indefinitely or spends the rest of his life in prison.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors concluded their closing arguments in Ramos’ case Thursday, bringing closer to a conclusion a trial that spanned 12 days and a case that stretched back three years. The mass shooting at the Annapolis news organization, part of Baltimore Sun Media, has been billed the deadliest ever attack on an American newsroom.
During their final arguments before the jury, prosecutors and defense attorneys called into question the credibility of the other’s mental health experts. They offered conflicting accounts of the mental conditions that afflicted Ramos, whether they rose to Maryland’s legal standard for insanity and exactly how the jury should interpret that standard.
A defendant is criminally responsible if he, because of a mental disorder, lacks substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform their conduct to the requirements of the law. Prosecutors and defense attorneys interpreted the meaning differently, and it shaped how they presented their case to the jury.
Ramos’ lawyers contend that it holds a broader meaning than knowing something is illegal or not. Their key witness, Dr. Dorothy Lewis, testified that Ramos had autism spectrum disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and delusion disorder, all of which, she said, prevented him from appreciating the magnitude of trauma his rampage caused.
“Grasping the significance of your conduct means more than knowing knowing you’ll be arrested,” Public Defender Matthew Connell said.
He was responding to prosecutors’ simpler perspective: If Ramos understood it was illegal, which Lewis acknowledged, he’s criminally responsible.
“They want you to think he failed to understand the magnitude of the tragedy of these families,” State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said. “That is not the legal standard.”
Dr. Sameer Patel, a health department psychiatrist who evaluated Ramos and testified for the prosecution, said Ramos clearly understood the criminality of his conduct. He cited Ramos’ calling the police, knowing he would be arrested and expecting to spend the remainder of his life in prison as evidence.
The last witness to testify at trial, he appeared to become emotional at times while describing the horrors Ramos recited during 20 hours of interviews.
Defense attorneys accused him of being biased and invested in the outcome of the case. They said he ignored Ramos’ lawsuits, which Connell described as crazy “manifestos” and the best examples of Ramos’ psychotic thoughts that he was being persecuted by a conspiracy including the paper and the courts.
Leitess, meanwhile, excoriated Lewis. She said the doctor testified more about her HBO documentary, book and her past work with notorious serial killers than how the mental conditions she diagnosed Ramos connected to the standards for insanity in Maryland. She said Lewis, the only expert to testify Ramos was legally insane, had trouble recalling facts about this case.
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“She’s not credible,” Leitess said. “She just says what comes to the top of her head.”
Connell appealed to the jury’s own encounters and experiences with mental illness. He described the depressing aspects of Ramos’ isolated life, much of which he spent in is basement with no friends, romance or close connection other than with his cat. He acknowledged psychiatry leaves a great gray area where mental conditions and diagnoses share symptoms and diagnostic criteria.
“There’s an old saying: Sometimes it’s hard to define something but you know it when you see it,” Connell said. “That’s mental health.”
Public Defender Katy O’Donnell said nothing else explained the June 28, 2018, attack on people who never crossed him.
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “This can only be explained by mental illness.”
Leitess asked the jury to evaluate all of the evidence about Ramos’ planning. She reminded them how Ramos described in interviews the joy of his last kill, and that Patel testified no psychiatric diagnosis justified his behavior. She said Ramos hoped to establish a legacy as a notorious killer who duped the system. She suggested a different narrative, one that ends with him found criminally responsible.
“Merely having a mental disorder does not get you to NCR,” Leitess said.