Jarrod Ramos, the Laurel man who is accused of blasting his way into the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis and killing five staff members, entered a not-guilty plea in Anne Arundel Circuit Court on Monday.
Ramos, 38, has been indicted on five counts of first-degree murder and other violations in the June 28 attack. He had been scheduled to be arraigned on Monday.
He pleaded not guilty through a court filing Monday and did not appear in court. Public defenders William M. Davis and Elizabeth W. Palan entered their appearance as his attorneys Monday, eliminating the need for the arraignment.
Davis did not respond to a request for comment.
Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams, who will prosecute the case with Aaron Meyers and Jason Knight, addressed reporters outside the courthouse Monday, explaining the next steps in the proceeding, But he declined to comment on the case itself.
Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Laura S. Kiessling is to hold a scheduling conference with the parties by the end of August.
Journalists packed the third-floor courtroom for the scheduled arraignment Monday morning. They were joined by several Capital Gazette staffers who attended not to report the news but to observe the proceedings.
Adams spoke briefly to Capital Gazette reporters Phil Davis and Rachael Pacella outside the courtroom. Davis and Pacella were in the newsroom at the time prosecutors say Ramos shot their colleagues to death.
Defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit, who is not involved in the case, said it’s common in a criminal case for the defendant to start with a plea of not guilty.
“You don’t concede anything until you see the state’s case,” Pettit said.
The plea allows the defense to file discovery motions to request any evidence, and allows the defense to find potential holes in the state’s case that can be argued at trial. It also leaves open the possibility that a defendant can plead he or she was not criminally responsible for the violation or claim that he or she is not mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Brian G. Thompson, another defense attorney not involved with the case, said all attorneys enter a not-guilty plea at this stage.
“It would be malpractice not to enter a not-guilty plea,” he said.
Ramos is charged in the deaths of Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor and columnist for the Capital Gazette; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications; Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a longtime sports writer; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant.
Two other staff members, Pacella and Janel Cooley, were injured in the attack.
The Capital Gazette is owned by the Baltimore Sun Media Group.
The attack began at 2:33 p.m. June 28 in the newspaper’s office at 888 Bestgate Road.
Police said Ramos used a shotgun to blast his way through a glass door and into the newsroom. They say he moved through the office, shooting five employees. Others hid under their desks or tried to escape through a back door, which Ramos is accused of barricading before the shooting.
Officers called to the scene found Ramos hiding under a desk and took him into custody, police said in charging documents.
Last month, District Judge Thomas Pryal ordered Ramos held without bail. He remains at Anne Arundel County’s Jennifer Road detention center.
At Ramos’ bail hearing, Davis, his public defender, argued against holding the hearing and asked for a gag order. The judge denied both motions.
Ramos nurtured a long-running grievance with the newspaper stemming from a 2011 column about his conviction for harassment. The harassment case centered on an online relationship Ramos allegedly tried to kindle with a former high school classmate. In the column, then-Capital Gazette staff member Eric Hartley wrote that Ramos sent a friend request on Facebook to the woman, and the experience turned into a “yearlong nightmare.”
Ramos pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge and was sentenced to probation. A judge called his behavior “rather bizarre,” the column said.
Ramos then filed a defamation lawsuit against the Capital Gazette. It was rejected by a lower court, and again on appeal.