ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A jury on Thursday found the gunman who killed five people at a Maryland newspaper criminally responsible for his actions, rejecting defense attorneys’ mental illness arguments.
The verdict means Jarrod Ramos will be sentenced to prison, not a maximum-security mental health facility, for one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in the U.S. Prosecutors are seeking five life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The jury needed less than two hours to find that Ramos, 41, could understand the criminality of his actions and conform his conduct to the requirements of the law when he attacked the Capital Gazette newsroom in 2018.
Survivors and family members of victims, some with tears in their eyes, embraced outside the courtroom and applauded prosecutors and jurors as they walked by after the verdict.
“It’s been a never-ending nightmare,” said Cindi Rittenour, the sister of Rebecca Smith, who died in the attack. “And then hearing that today — just all my anxiety over it, all the wonderings, the unknowns, it’s all gone away now, and all I feel is just relief and happiness. I feel like my sister can finally start to rest in peace.”
Danielle Ohl was a reporter at the Capital Gazette when Ramos attacked and came to Annapolis to be with her former colleagues for the verdict.
“It’s the culmination of three excruciating years, waiting for a result in the trial and waiting to find out if the man who kind of ruined our families and newsroom would go somewhere with the potential to be released,” Ohl said.
Paul Gillespie, a photojournalist at the newspaper, said he suffers from PTSD, anxiety and depression since the attack. In court, he described feeling the breeze of shotgun pellets whiz by him as he ran out of the newsroom to safety.
“With this being over now, I’m hoping things get a little better, but I don’t know what the future holds,” Gillespie said.
“He’s evil; he’s not crazy. He deserves to be in prison, and I hope he gets all five life terms,” he said of Ramos.
Judge Michael Wachs did not set a date for sentencing, but estimated it would take place in about two months.
Ramos already had pleaded guilty to all 23 counts against him in 2019 but pleaded not criminally responsible — Maryland’s version of an insanity plea. The second phase of his trial, which lasted 12 days, was largely a battle between mental health experts called by defense attorneys and prosecutors.
Ramos developed a long-running grudge against the newspaper after an article it published about his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of harassing a former high school classmate in 2011. He filed a lawsuit against the paper in 2012, alleging he was defamed, but it was dismissed as groundless. His appeals failed.
Defense attorneys argued that Ramos suffered from a delusional disorder as well as autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They contended Ramos became consumed with the idea that the article had ruined his life. As his defamation appeals failed, his lawyers said he came to believe there was a vast conspiracy against him involving the courts and the newspaper.
Prosecutors, however, repeatedly pointed to shortcomings in the mental health evaluations done by the defense, which relied mostly on interviews with Ramos and his sister.
Prosecutors said Ramos acted out of revenge for the article. They said his long, meticulous planning for the attack and the manner in which he carried it out — including plans for arrest and long incarceration — proved he understood the criminality of his actions.
They emphasized how Ramos called 911 from the newsroom after the shooting, identified himself as the gunman and said he surrendered — evidence he clearly understood the criminality of his actions. He was arrested while facedown under a desk.
Anne Colt Leitess, the Anne Arundel County state’s attorney, said that although Ramos has personality disorders like narcissism, he does not have serious mental illness that would have qualified him to be found not criminally responsible for five murders.
Leitess told the jury that Ramos thought he was smarter than everyone else, and his repeated losses in court were “too much for him to bear, and so he started plotting his revenge.” Leitess also said Ramos was concerned the article about him harassing his former classmate would hinder his ability to get dates.
After the verdict, Leitess expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
“This means everything to the community. I’m just so happy that I was able to bring justice for the family members and the survivors, and that Mr. Ramos will be held criminally responsible for his crimes,” she said.
The trial began last month, three years and a day after the attack that killed Wendi Winters, John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen and Smith at the newspaper’s office in a building complex in Maryland’s capital city on June 28, 2018.
Under Maryland’s insanity defense law, a defendant has the burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he is not criminally responsible for his actions. That means defense attorneys had to show that it’s more likely than not that Ramos isn’t criminally responsible.
Associated Press writer David McFadden contributed to this report.