With the sanity trial of the gunman who murdered or assaulted their loved ones set to begin in minutes, family members Tuesday morning steeled themselves for a long day.
Scattered across three rows of benches in the largest courtroom in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, family members of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters passed around tissues before the judge took the bench.
One widow turned around to offer up a hard truth.
“This is going to suck,” she said.
The loved ones of those murdered or assaulted in the Capital Gazette shooting spent three years trying to move on from the trauma of that day, only to relive some of it again in court Tuesday.
It was the first day of the sanity trial for the man responsible for their pain.
In the first six hours, they endured crime scene photos of their late spouses, siblings or parents after they faced the barrel of Jarrod Ramos’ shotgun. They watched security video of the gunman maneuvering about the Annapolis newsroom. And body worn camera footage from some of the first officers to arrive at the scene of the active shooter at 888 Bestgate Road.
In the gallery, some family members clutched hands. Others embraced or covered their eyes.
Defense attorneys for Ramos, 41, acknowledged the horrors he committed when they explained their theory of why he did it. Public Defender Katy O’Donnell described the attack as a “tragic and senseless murder of five individuals.”
“The emotional impact of this case is staggering,” O’Donnell said.
She explained the defense’s position that Ramos is not criminally responsible because he was insane at the time.
The families learned Ramos wasn’t even remorseful about what he did.
He thought he was right to do it, O’Donnell said, because his mental health disorders caused him to feel like the newspaper was persecuting him and conspiring with the courts. This grievance consumed his life and he felt he expended all other options but to kill. She said he had hoped to claim more casualties.
“Oh god,” a family member exclaimed.
Ramos pleaded guilty to all counts, including the five murders, in part because defense attorneys wanted to limit the amount of graphic testimony and evidence that prosecutors could use. Still, during a trial strictly focused on whether the gunman was insane or not, graphic evidence was front and center.
Family members of the victims did not comment publicly after the testimony.
The defense began their case by calling the lead Anne Arundel County police detective, Jason DiPietro, and asking him to describe footage captured on the newsroom cameras. Before Ramos attacked, the video showed Hiaasen and Fischman leaving the office and coming back.
The footage from the camera positioned toward the newsroom front door showed the beam of a flashlight — and then the gunman — entering the frame. After he found the glass doors locked, he blasted through. Then, he turned the long gun in the direction of the front desk, where sales associate Rebecca Smith sat.
“Oh geez,” someone said.
The camera positioned at the back of the newsroom showed a black barricade Ramos slid under the side door. Then, it showed employees trying to escape only to find the door wouldn’t budge.
Close-up pictures shown to a testifying crime scene technician revealed where the four journalists took their last breaths, whether it was under the desk where they worked, between cubicles or in the narrow pathway through the office — survivors credited Winters with saving lives by charging the shooter with her garbage and recycling bins.
Gasps followed each image.
Annapolis Police Officer Wesley Callow took to the stand next.
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Footage from his body camera showed him sprinting toward the scene. He could be heard yelling at people nearby to get in their cars and leave.
After consulting rifle-wielding officers and sheriff’s deputies, he entered the newsroom. His camera caught glimpses of the deceased in color and clearer detail.
At least one family member left the courtroom.
Law enforcement led surviving victims away, each of their hands on the shoulders of those in front of them. The officer’s microphone picked up a description of the suspect: A white man with a ponytail wearing black and green boots and matching military-style fatigues.
Callow walked over to the cubicle home to the newspaper’s photo staff. He called out to the other officers. Green pants and black boots protruded from underneath a desk.
The gunman was wearing different green garb Tuesday. He was bearded, shackled and seated next to his attorneys — just a few feet away from the families he devastated.