An Anne Arundel County judge set a new date for the Capital Gazette shooting trial Friday, picking three weeks in June and July that will overlap the three-year mark of the deadliest attack on journalists in American history.
Circuit Court Judge Laura Ripken on Friday set June 23 for the start of the trial of the man convicted of murdering Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters on June 28, 2018. It was scheduled to begin with in-person jury selection on Dec. 1, but was postponed when Maryland Judiciary officials canceled all jury trials as coronavirus numbers spiked in Maryland.
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 order filed Friday scheduled three weeks of proceedings, lasting through July 13, according to online court records.
State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess, who is prosecuting the mass murder case, said it was the first date that the judge, all the attorneys, expert witnesses and the main courtroom at the Anne Arundel County courthouse were available for three weeks. She said prosecutors presented three possible dates, which also took into consideration setting it too early.
“It was unintentional,” she wrote in a message Friday night.
A spokesperson for the Maryland Judiciary could not be reached for comment.
The trial, which will include evidence regarding Ramos’ state of mind at the time of the murders, will be taking place when Annapolis dedicates a memorial to the five shooting victims. The Guardians of the Free Press memorial on Newman Street is set to be dedicated June 28.
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The trial has 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.
All criminal jury trials through the end of the year were suspended last month by Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, chief judge of the Court of Appeals.
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.
Coronavirus cases are surging in Maryland and Anne Arundel County, which have both taken a number of steps to limit the spread of the virus. Maryland is expected to get vaccines as early as next week, but it is expected to take months for inoculations to become widespread.
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 Capital Gazette case is unique in that the new schedule will prolong justice beyond three years from the day Ramos blasted into the newsroom with a shotgun and shocked the close-knit community of Annapolis.
Capital Gazette is the newspaper group that includes The Capital, the Maryland Gazette, the Bowie Blade-News and the Crofton West County Gazette. It is part of Baltimore Sun Media and Tribune Publishing.