Defense in Capital Gazette case objects to state's witness protection request

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

Defense attorneys representing Jarrod Ramos, the Laurel man charged with killing five Capital Gazette employees, in a Wednesday filing said a state motion to protect witness information would interfere with his constitutional rights.

Public defenders Bill Davis and Elizabeth Palan asked a Circuit Court judge to deny Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams’ motion to withhold witnesses’ addresses and phone numbers, saying the state “fails to provide any reason to establish, believe or suggest, that the Defendant … is a risk to any of the State’s witnesses in this case.”

Davis and Palan argue sealing witness information would hamper their ability to investigate the case and prepare for a trial. They also argue that granting the motion would violate Ramos’ Sixth Amendment right to participate in his own defense, as well as Fifth and 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection.

“The State should not be permitted to gain a strategic, or tactical, advantage by withholding critical discovery materials and information from Defense Counsel and/or the Defendant,” they wrote.

Defense attorneys said withholding witness information severely hampers the ability to prepare for cross-examination. If the information is sealed, and the defense must rely on witness statements given to police, preparation becomes much harder, Annapolis attorney Jennifer Alexander said.

“While the state can say, ‘Well here I’m giving you their statements,’ expert criminal litigators know things differ between the time they give a statement and get on the stand,” said Alexander, a former assistant county prosecutor.

Davis’ objection is just the latest in the back and forth between defense and prosecution that began Friday and will continue as the case progresses.

No trial date has been set for Ramos, who pleaded not guilty to 23 charges in the June 28 attack on the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis. Earlier this week, the defense filed a series of motions before a scheduled court appearance that was later canceled.

Adams’ motion, filed Friday, asks the court to protect the contact information and addresses of witnesses, including survivors of the attack and representatives for some of the five killed.

Courts can grant witness protection, given the prosecution provides “good cause” to withhold information from the defense. It is common for the court to protect witnesses who cooperate with the defense in drug or gang violence cases, or when witnesses express some fear of retribution.

The State’s Attorney’s Office did not give a specific reason for the protection request.

No judge has issued an order related to the state’s motion. Circuit Court Judge William C. Mulford II chose not to act on the defense motions filed this week.

Circuit Court Judge Laura S. Kiessling has been assigned to the rest of the case. She will hold a status conference in the next month to schedule hearings for motions and a trial date, Adams said Monday. Alexander, along with others, said Ramos’ past might have motivated the motion.

He held a grudge against The Capital after former columnist Eric Hartley, who wrote a column about Ramos’ harassment charges. Ramos lost a defamation case against the paper.

The Capital’s former attorney, a Maryland Court of Special Appeals judge and a Baltimore City judge all received letters signed “Jarrod W. Ramos” dated the day of the shooting. They indicated that the writer wanted to kill everyone in the newsroom.

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