The man charged with the Capital Gazette shooting was found guilty in October 2019 on all counts. Here’s a look back at everything we know from the day police say he stormed into the news organization’s Annapolis office and fatally shot Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman and John McNamara.
Circuit Judge Michael Wachs will preside over the trial of Jarrod Ramos, 41, who pleaded guilty and not criminally responsible, Maryland’s version of an insanity defense. Under the not criminally responsible plea, the trial was split into two phases: one to determine guilt and one to determine whether he was insane at the time.
Even though Ramos was found guilty, the criminal responsibility phase will still move forward. Ramos has requested a jury trial for that portion, and jury selection begins Wednesday with trial scheduled for Tuesday. If he’s then found not criminally responsible, he would go to a psychiatric facility indefinitely instead of prison.
Experts’ evaluations completed ahead of the trial are key in a judge or jury then determining if he was legally sane.
Here’s what we know ahead of the trial’s start.
June 28, 2018 - The day of the shooting
There were 11 people in the office that day; six survived. The gunman had barricaded the office’s alternate entrance, trapping people inside and forcing them to hide under their desks. Survivors credit Winters, who they say confronted the attacker with a trash can and a recycling bin, for saving their life.
Police responded to the scene quickly — part by luck and part by design. Within one minute of the first 911 calls, officers were arriving at the building.
Officers from Anne Arundel County Police Department, Annapolis Police Department and the Anne Arundel County Sheriff’s Office happened to be in the area and were among first responders.
In the aftermath of the shooting, police found themselves helping reporters they knew well; victims and survivors were familiar faces. And Capital Gazette reporters began covering the story as they themselves were grieving.
The suspect and his long-standing feud with the Capital Gazette
Police arrested Jarrod Ramos following the June attack and he was indicted on 23 counts that July, including charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and assault. Ramos had a feud with the Capital Gazette that stretched back at least six years. The Capital Gazette is part of Baltimore Sun Media.
It began after the newspaper ran a column about him allegedly harassing a former high school classmate on social media and the case against him. In 2012, he filed an ultimately unsuccessful defamation lawsuit against the paper and the columnist, Eric Hartley.
Ramos continually ranted against the Capital Gazette and its employees in court filings and on social media.
In a 2014 court filing, Ramos threatened that he wanted to kill Hartley.
“Plaintiff has sworn a legal oath he would like to kill Hartley, and he still would,” Ramos wrote.
He railed against the newspaper on his Twitter account, regularly commenting on Anne Arundel County news and referred to a 2015 deadly shooting at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. It had been dormant since January 2016 until 2:37 p.m. June 28, 2018 — moments before the shooting — when the account posted a message that read: “F--- you, leave me alone.”
Rebecca Smith worked as an advertising sales assistant for the Capital Gazette. She was 34 and was born in Baltimore but lived in Dundalk at the time of the shooting. Family members said she was the first person in their family to go to college, graduating from Villa Julie College, now named Stevenson University, with a marketing degree.
Her family, friends and workplace colleagues were the center of her life. She was engaged to be married to Dewayne Poling, who she enjoyed supporting at his softball team’s games. She enjoyed camping and was a Pink Floyd fan when she was younger, family members said.
Rob Hiaasen, 59, was a mentor to young reporters at The Capital in his role as assistant editor and wrote a Sunday column.
As a writer, Hiaasen was drawn to quirky stories and had a unique way of telling them. Among articles Hiaasen wrote was the story of Kirk Bloodworth, the Eastern Shore man who was wrongly convicted of murdering a 9-year-old girl; a feature about five people who contracted AIDS from a Palm Beach dentist; a veteran of D-Day familiar to Baltimoreans as a strolling violin player; and many others.
After his death Hiaasen’s wife of 33 years, Maria, published “Float Plan,” a novel he had crafted focused on protagonist Will Larkin, a high school algebra teacher. Maria Hiaasen also published a book compiling some of Rob’s columns, titled “Love Punch.”
Gerald Fischman, 61, was the longtime editorial page editor for The Capital. He had written with passion, heartbreak and horror about America’s mass shootings in The Capital’s editorial pages prior to becoming a victim of one.
His editorials reflected the newspaper’s community temperament and roots. He won numerous awards for the editorials — including honors for editorials related to the case involving a noose found at a Crofton school, and a piece about censorship at County Council meetings.
Wendi Winters, 65, was a feature writer for The Capital and had been a public relations executive in Manhattan. Winters lived in Edgewater and was known for her prolific writing, love for telling stories and her work in the community.
Winters wrote three weekly columns: Around Broadneck, Teen of the Week and Home of the Week. She was also a Girl Scout leader, a church youth adviser and ran an annual Red Cross Blood Drive.
Her son and three daughters started the Wendi Winters Memorial Foundation, with the purpose of supporting events, such as the annual P.R. Bazaar. Winters’ children also created a memorial blood drive in their mother’s honor.
John McNamara had a passion for sports, journalism, the University of Maryland, classic rock and his family. McNamara, 56, worked for the Capital Gazette for more than two decades.
The sportswriter, who was working as an editor and reporter for the Bowie Blade-News when he was killed, had an encyclopedic knowledge of sports and was always willing to help young reporters.
McNamara’s wife, Andrea Chamblee, has worked on finishing a book John was writing about the history of high school basketball in the D.C. area titled “The Capital of Basketball.”
The shooter’s not criminally responsible plea
In Maryland, to find someone not criminally responsible, the defense must prove that at the time the defendant committed the crime they could not understand their actions were illegal or conform their actions to the law because of a mental disorder or developmental disabilities.
It’s a rare defense with tough criteria, experts say. The plea allows the defendant to go to a psychiatric facility indefinitely instead of prison if convicted.
A Maryland Health Department evaluation completed before the trial found that Ramos was legally sane. Defense attorneys said their experts, who also evaluated Ramos, reached a different conclusion. The results of the exams will likely be debated during the second phase of trial. But it’s important to note that a diagnosis alone does not meet Maryland’s standard for insanity.
Pre-trial hearings determine what can be used in trial
Much of the pre-trial hearings centered around access to records that could be used to speak to Ramos’ mental state. While the defense sought records to shed light on what they claimed to be “bizarre” behavior in the years leading up to the attack, the prosecutors argued for access to documents detailing his capability to conform with the law, such as his financial and educational records.
Records from Ramos’ previous employer, veterinary clinics where he had his cat treated and euthanized, and the attorneys of the victim in a harassment case he pleaded guilty to years ago could be used during trial.
Reports that were only made public in the months leading up to the trial show he initially planned to blow up the news organization’s building, then studied police response times to other mass shootings in hopes of staying alive.
Calling it “the best evidence,” the judge ruled security video of the Capital Gazette shooting could be shown. She also ruled to allow access to jail records that document Ramos’ behavior after the attack, including medical or psychiatric treatment he received, an audio disc of calls, a log of his visitors, and the names of two inmates, who went to the authorities with information on Ramos’ behavior in jail.
Ramos had fallen off the radar of the psychiatrist at the Anne Arundel County jail, who was convinced the gunman didn’t need mental health care, the doctor said in an April court hearing. But the defense’s forensic psychiatrist, said in a report discussed in court that Ramos had an “autistic and delusional understanding of the world.”