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Gunman’s sister testifies on day 3 of Capital Gazette murder trial

Posted at 1:45 PM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 18:05:50-04

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — “Who were his friends? I think just me.”

A life-long loner. Awkward and mostly isolated. A night owl. This is how the sister of the Capital Gazette mass shooter described him in court.

Michelle Jeans testified on the third day of his trial. At multiple points, she held back tears or wiped her eyes with a tissue. She was visibly and audibly nervous. Jeans told his defense attorney Elizabeth Palan that she and the defendant, 41-year-old Jarrod Ramos, have been estranged since 2015 and Thursday was the first time she’d seen him in person since then.

Jeans said the defendant is 2.5 years older than her. She recalled calling police after seeing the news on June 28, 2018 to say she believe her brother was involved.

Ramos pleaded guilty to murdering five Capital Gazette staffers after a long-standing beef with the paper over a failed defamation lawsuit. This trial is to determine if he can be held criminally responsible because of his mental health at the time of the crime.

Palan started by asking Jeans to lay out the background of her family.

She told Palan how they lived on a military base in England in the 1980s with their parents for her father’s work with the Department of Defense.

He had one friend that she remembers and she said he played lots of video games.

The family moved back to Maryland so Ramos could start high school here. They had one year of overlap in high school and she said the two wouldn’t socialize but he drove her to school. During that year, she doesn’t remember him having a social life at all.

“There were never any friends over or going places,” said Jeans. “Generally, I would say that he came home from school and went in his room and I would come home and go in my room and that’s mostly how it would go.”

She said they would see each other only for dinner.

Palan asked what family life was like with her parents at that time.

“It was not the best. My parents were clearly unhappy,” said Jeans.

She said her mother was very loving but she never felt like her father was very emotionally connected to them. She called her father emotionally distant.

She recalled after the move back from England, Ramos and his mom would butt heads a lot.

After high school, Ramos attended college while living at home until their grandmother died in the early 2000s.

“When my grandmother died, it was a very impactful thing for Jarrod. He was very close to her,” said Jeans.

Shortly after she died, Jeans said Ramos went by himself on an Appalachian trail walk for 9 months before moving back to his parents’ home.

Then, 2004, when his parents were selling the house, it was just Ramos and his mom living there. Jeans described how Ramos had separate utilities to his room that were not connected to the rest of the home, but when his mother shut off the house utilities to get ready to move, she accidentally shut his off too and he was very angry at her for it.

“He pretty much disowned her at that point. He was that upset about what he felt,” said Jeans.

She said he didn’t talk to his mom after that point, only seeing her at a funeral in the late 2000s.

She said Ramos ended up moving in with her and her then-husband in 2004 because she had borrowed money from him and this was a way she could pay him back.

“He never had any social interactions of his own. He mostly stayed in his room,” said Jeans. “It was always kind of awkward. He never wanted to hang out with us. I would try to get him to come out with us and be more social.”

She recalled that she and Ramos lived together for four months before she was deployed.

Ramos stayed for a little until Jeans and her husband divorced and sold the house.

Then he moved into his basement-level studio apartment in Laurel, taking her cat because she was overseas and he was close with the cat.

She recalled that he had computer-type jobs that would support him and when he wasn’t working, he borrowed money from her or played poker in Atlantic City. She said when he would make trips there, he would sleep in his car.

She remembered being his only friend when he lived alone.

“I tried to interact with him. I was always trying to get him to be more social and do more things,” said Jeans.

Thursday, the jury also heard testimony from Lt. Kenneth Potter from the Anne Arundel County Detention Center, who is responsible for tracking all the defendants outgoing calls. He said within a month after he was incarcerated, Ramos attempted two phone calls that were not answered. In the three years since, he has not made an outgoing call.

Dr. Brandt who was called to the stand Wednesday, was back Thursday. Prosecutors asked her about disorders and she said throughout her career, she has come across patients who were faking symptoms and there are a variety of things to look for when trying to evaluate a patient and their symptoms.

Prosecutors also asked about her compensation from the Public Defender’s Office. She said she’s been paid $300 so far and expects to be paid for 20 hours at $150 an hour.

After the lunch break, Palan started questioning Jeans about her brother’s online friendship with a woman that led to criminal harassment charges in 2011.

“He knew what he did was wrong and he pleaded guilty to it,” said Jeans.

Jeans said Ramos told her the online relationship had gone sour and he was watching her public Facebook page, when he noticed a post that was her “going to work hungover or something to that affect. He took screenshots and sent that to her boss,” said Jeans.

When asked if she said anything to Ramos about how she felt about his actions, Jeans said: It was hard to discuss these kinds of things with him because I didn’t want to upset him… When people upset him, he will disown them or remove them from his life… so I didn’t outwardly tell him how bad that sounded to me.

She said she’s always been cautious about her approach to him.

Jeans said he justified what he did by comparing it to somebody being out in front of a bar and seeing someone drunk getting into a car and driving off. “That situation you would do something.. and he felt it was the same sort of situation.”

“He feels very strongly that people do the right thing,” said Jeans.

After he pleaded guilty to the harassment charges, Ramos emailed Jeans a link to a Capital Gazette article about his charges because “he was devastated. He was very upset… the main point was that he said it wasn’t accurate. It had parts in it that weren’t true… It felt like a personal attack against him.”

There was a specific part he was upset about, one line that was included in a court filing and in the article but it had never happened and wasn’t discussed in court.

“He said the inclusion of that line made him look crazy and that anybody who would Google his name would see this article and he would look crazy... He was very upset about it,” said Jeans.

Shortly after, Ramos told Jeans he wanted them to retract it and issue an apology.

“He wrote them letters.”

A month later, he was looking for legal representation and then he started a Twitter account to share his side of the story, including links to his filings.

Jeans: I said that his posts made him look crazy.

Palan: What was his response?

Jeans: I don’t remember his exact words but the best way I can convey that is that I left that conversation that he was happy that whoever read that would be intimidated by him or scared of him so when he had them in the courthouse, that they would be off of their game because they were intimidated by him.

She described how he had a very specific wardrobe that he liked, which were hiking pants, hiking shoes and an outdoor button up shirt. She offered to take him to get a proper suit.

“I wanted to help him and his opinion was the way he dressed was the way he was. He wanted to be honest,”’ said Jeans.

They continued to talk a few times a month, and she said it was almost entirely about his lawsuits.

“He would discuss the lawsuits I think with anybody that would listen,” said Jeans.

She recalled he was suing the reporter, the Capital Gazette, the victim and a therapist’s office for incorrect information they gave to the victim.

Some of them he would win and some of them he would lose. If he lost at this point, then he filed an appeal.

“He is a very smart person and he was teaching himself law,” said Jeans. “He would read a specific legal piece and analyze his situation and make it fit it.”

She said he had black and white definitions of right and wrong. Even before his legal issues, he had medical issues that he would similarly get obsessed about.

She recalled he would tell her that judges and lawyers are corrupt and not doing their jobs properly.

She broke down crying when she explained that even at their closest in the mid-2000s after her divorce, the relationship was one-sided.

“I spent a lot of effort, and he probably doesn’t know this, trying to help him and make him happy,” said Jeans. “He just never seemed happy so I wanted to try and help him be happy… That’s what siblings do for each other. “

The beginning of 2015 was the last time she spoke to him. She doesn’t know why he stopped talking to her.

State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess started cross examination by citing her interview with police in 2018, recalling what she told them about all the activities he did in England.

She confirmed he played with friends at a rec center, participated in Easter egg hunts and a bowling league. But that he was upset when he moved back from England. He had a friend who gave him a friendship bracelet that he lost.

In high school, she confirmed he was part of the chess club and participated in chess tournaments, and in his adult life, he was part of a running club to train to hike the Appalachian Trial.

“I never felt like talking to strangers was difficult for him…he just didn’t do it much,” said Jeans.

Leitess: He could be caring and loving couldn’t he?

Jeans: Yes.

Cross examination was cut short because of a tornado warning. It will pick back up Friday morning.