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Defendant in Capital Gazette shooting asks for more time to consider insanity plea

The man charged in the Capital Gazette shooting asked Thursday to extend the deadline for considering an insanity plea, citing an overwhelming amount of evidence submitted by the prosecution in the last month.

With the current deadline looming Friday, defense attorneys asked Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Laura Ripken to extend it up to 90 days.

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Ripken is presiding over the Capital Gazette shooting case, in which a Laurel man faces 23 counts for murdering five people at the news organization office in Annapolis on June 28.

Police say the gunman killed Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters and John McNamara. Six other staff members in the newsroom that afternoon survived the attack.

Jarrod Ramos, 39, has pleaded not guilty to charges including murder, attempted murder and assault of other employees in the newsroom at the time. The trial is scheduled for June 3 to 14.

Ripken previously granted two extensions of the deadline to change his plea to not criminally responsible, which asserts a person could not understand at the time his or her actions were a crime. Ripken in January extended the plea deadline to Friday.

Public defenders William Davis, Elizabeth Palan and Katy O’Donnell argued at a Feb. 28 hearing they did not have enough information from the prosecutors to gain a complete understanding of their client’s conduct at the time of the shooting and consider an insanity plea.

Ripken ruled 10 days later the state had gone above and beyond what state law requires. But because Ripken did not issue her opinion until March 11, state law automatically pushed the plea deadline back another 15 days.

In filings Thursday, the defense requested “good cause” to go beyond March 26 because of the state prosecutors’ “deliberate and designed failure” to provide essential discovery, they wrote.

The defense said the Anne Arundel State’s Attorney’s Office, currently led by Anne Colt Leitess, intentionally withheld information over the last eight months. Ramos’ attorneys have received evidence from August through the last two months but they stated they had insufficient time to review “essential” documents.

Leitess took over the prosecutor’s office in January, after ousting former State’s Attorney Wes Adams in last fall’s election.

The state has 15 days to respond to the motion, “which we intend to do in writing,” said state’s attorney spokeswoman Emily Morse. She declined to comment further.

If Ramos pursues a not criminally responsible plea, prosecutors can ask that it be considered separately from his not guilty plea.

Prosecutors often choose that route because it doesn’t bring with it all of the evidence of the case, said George Psoras Jr., a Baltimore County defense attorney.

The case then becomes a “battle of the experts,” Psoras said. Both sides will examine the defendant and come to a conclusion, which the judge reviews.

“The judge will have to make a legal determination whether or not the person is criminally responsible,” Psoras said. “It is done separately from the issue of guilt.”

If found not criminally responsible, Ramos would be turned over to the state under the custody of the Maryland Department of Health. He would likely be sent to Clifton T. Perkins, a maximum security mental health institution.

The commitment is indefinite and release only would occur after the individual receives treatment and meets conditions of release, Psoras said. Those conditions are different for everybody.

If found criminally responsible, Ramos’ not guilty plea would then be tested in court. He could request a jury trial at this time.

Psoras said he wasn’t familiar enough with the case to decide how he would defend Ramos, but choosing not criminally responsible is a tough path. The burden is on the defense to prove the suspect wasn’t criminally responsible, reversing the traditional burden of proof placed on the prosecution.

“It is a really tough row to hoe,” Psoras said. “You are dealing with mental illness and there is no quick fix sometimes.”

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