Prosecutors made an unusual request to the jailers holding Capital Gazette shooting suspect Jarrod Ramos: They want copies of any letters he sends or receives.
But on Thursday, Ramos’ attorney said the move violates his rights and that he intends to fight it in court.
Court records don’t indicate why prosecutors want access to the mail, but on the day of the attack police say he mailed out at least four letters threatening or intimidating his perceived enemies.
Ramos is known to have been a prolific writer. In the years before the shootings, he authored hundreds of pages of court documents and social media posts laying out his grudge against the newspaper and a former high school classmate.
In another court filing, prosecutors said they wanted to use a recent filing by Ramos with the state’s top court in a grand jury investigation as they seek to indict him in the deaths of five Capital Gazette employees on June 28.
Ramos, 38, is accused of going to the newspaper’s Annapolis offices, barricading the back door and blasting his way through the front with a pump-action shotgun.
He is charged with five counts of first degree murder in the deaths of Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor and columnist at the Capital; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent; Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a longtime sportswriter; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a newly hired sales assistant.
Ramos is being held without bail at Anne Arundel County’s Jennifer Road detention center.
On July 3, the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s office obtained a subpoena directing the jail to deliver “certified copies of all incoming and outgoing mail (front/back with envelopes, delivered every 2 weeks).”
On Thursday, Ramos’ public defender, William Davis, filed a notice in court saying that he intended to challenge the subpoena.
“Among other issues the State’s subpoena is unlawful in its scope and constitutes a violation of the Defendant’s constitutional rights,” wrote Davis, adding that Ramos invoked his due process rights and rights to be represented by an attorney.
Davis declined to comment. The state’s attorney’s office also declined to comment.
Typically, people’s private communications are subject to strict legal protections. Prosecutors usually need a search warrant to gain access to a suspect’s mail and special authorization from a judge for a wiretap to listen in on their phone calls.
People in jail have few of the same protections.
Lawyers not directly involved in the case said they had not heard of prosecutors’ asking for access to inmates’ mail, but jail phone calls are routinely recorded and prosecutors regularly make use of the tapes in criminal cases.
Inmates’ mail is generally not given any privacy protection and can be opened and inspected by jail authorities to make sure it doesn’t contain contraband. But inmates are given some privacy to write to their lawyers and receive mail from them because of attorney-client privilege.
Thomas Maronick, a Baltimore defense attorney not involved in the case, said Ramos’ lawyers are right to put up a fight because of the potential for prosecutors to obtain Ramos’ correspondence with them.
“That seems to be over-broad,” Maronick said. “There’s a huge opportunity for this to expand beyond the scope of what’s permissible.”
The public defender’s attempt to block the subpoena — known as seeking to quash it — could lead to an early court battle in the murder prosecution.
J. Amy Dillard, a University of Baltimore law professor, said disputes over subpoenas are common and that a judge would be able to resolve any overreach by prosecutors — perhaps by reviewing the mail before turning it over.
Dillard said the specific request for the mail seemed unusual and that prosecutors are likely looking to obtain evidence that would help establish Ramos’ motive.
“That would be the legal hook, the legal justification,” she said.
Ramos left a lengthy paper trail over the years in court filings he wrote as he pursued his grudge against The Capital. It dates back to a 2011 article in the paper that reported on Ramos’ pleading guilty to harassing the former high school classmate.
The following year, Ramos sued the author of the article, the newspaper’s publisher and the company that owned it for defamation. He lost the case, and his appeals were rejected.
On the day of the shootings at the Capital Gazette’s Annapolis newsroom, Ramos filed a “motion for reconsideration” with the state’s top court in the defamation case.
The same day prosecutors sought the subpoena for his mail, Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams asked for Ramos’ motion for reconsideration to be sealed, using a Latin term to argue it was evidence of his mental state.
“The pleading creates direct evidence of petitioner’s involvement and mens rea in the allegations surrounding the June 28, 2018 shooting currently under investigation,” Adams wrote.
Adams asked a judge to give prosecutors access to the document “for the purposes of their Grand Jury Investigation.”
A judge granted the request the same day.
Before the document was sealed, The Baltimore Sun obtained a copy of a “motion for reconsideration” signed in Ramos’ name that was received by The Capital’s former attorney. It said that the writer was on his way to the newspaper’s offices “with the objective of killing every person present.”