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Inside the court room: Day one of the Capital Gazette shooting trial

Posted at 2:51 PM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-30 07:29:30-04

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Three years after he shot into the Capital Gazette, killed five staffers and injured others, his trial began Tuesday.

Jarrod Ramos, 41, pleaded guilty to all counts, but not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

Now the jury of eight men and four women will decide his mental health at the time of the murders.

Because the defense has the burden of proof in this case, they presented their opening statement first and prosecutors decided not to present theirs until after the defense is done calling witnesses.

DEFENSE OPENING STATEMENT:

“Expletive you, leave me alone.” This was the tweet the shooter sent out from a Capital Gazette computer after he murdered five staffers.

The same words were written about him in the Arundel Report six years before, when a Capital Gazette reporter was covering criminal harassment charges against Ramos from a high school friend. His counsel said this is what started his obsession with getting “justice” for defamation. He sued in 2012 and lost, but continued to hold a grudge that led to his actions on June 28, 2018.

Tuesday, during opening statements, attorney Katy O'Donnell laid out this eight year back story, trying to convince the jury that, while he already pleaded guilty to the murders, he is not criminally responsible because he suffers from mental health disorders that impaired him from appreciating the criminality of his conduct.

O’Donnell started by calling the act the defendant committed “grievous”, showing and naming the victims & explaining what the survivors went through to escape. O’Donnell said it was willful, premeditated and methodically planned for almost two years. He videotaped the building and exits ahead of time, purchased tactical equipment and studied first responder protocols.

After the shooting was done, he used a computer in the office to tweet out a message on social media and called 911 to say the shooting was done and he was unarmed. He laid done halfway under a desk to look like a victim when first responders showed up.

Just before the shooting, he purchased a lifetime membership for the chess federation to use in jail. He mailed out four letters to the parties involved in his defamation suit: a formal motion for reconsideration to the Circuit Court of Annapolis, a letter to the former judge, the reporter, who since moved to California, and the former editor.

O’Donnell explained all his life, he had been alone. He had no meaningful relationships, aside from his cat. He had never been kissed. When he turned 30, he decided he needed to focus on relationships so he reached out to someone he knew of from high school on Facebook. They talked back and forth. But after a few months, she stopped responding as often and the defendant got angry.

It came to a head when Ramos saw pictures of her on Facebook drinking, and he contacted her boss because he thought she should be fired. She filed charges of criminal harassment in January 2011 and he plead guilty six months later.

That’s when the Arundel Report article was published, titled "Jarrod wants to be your friend," it included details from the woman, and included a line that said Ramos said to her “expletive you, leave me alone," though she hadn’t written him in months. He was mad and claimed this was defamation because he never said that and thought it made him look delusional. He filed a defamation suit that was dismissed and he continued to file lawsuits and appeals to get what he believed was justice.

O’Donnell said in 2018, he had exhausted all appeals, become a hermit and then his cat died. Six weeks later, he committed the murders. She said the defendant is not remorseful. “He believes it was just and fair and it was the only option he had,” said O’Donnell.

Since then, O’Donnell said he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, Delusional disorder, Schizotypal Personality disorder and Narcissistic Personality disorder.

DEFENSE WITNESSES:

Prosecutors decided to present their opening statement after the defense concludes its case. So after making her opening statement, O’Donnell called the first defense witness, the lead detective for the case, Anne Arundel County Det. Jason DiPietro. The defense then took jurors through surveillance video from the lobby that shows the shooting, and video from a camera at the back exit, which showed something being slid under the door, later identified as an intruder defense system, that was used to lock people in. Then, the 911 call the shooter made to police after the murders was played, where the defendant said where he was and that is was unarmed.

ramos weapon

State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess then questioned DiPietro. Leitess asked questions about the gun, which was ordered online and picked up from a Bass Pro Shop in March of 2017. The witness then demonstrated the Barricuda, the intruder defense system that was found on the outside of the back door of the Capital Gazette office.

barracuda ramos

More evidence was presented that showed the defendant purchased a lifetime chess membership from the US Chess Federation four days before the murders. He then wrote to the federation from jail, asking for his membership address to be updated to the jail and a paper chess board be sent to him so he can play.

ramos chess

Then, Leitess went through the CD that was sent to the former Capital Gazette reporter who wrote the article the defendant cited as defamation. The CD contained articles published by the Capital Gazette editor asking the community to join the editorial board that meets every Thursday 1-3 p.m. at the Capital Gazette offices. The shooting happened on a Thursday at 2:33 p.m. Earlier Tuesday, the defense suggested this was why he picked this date and time.

It also contained pictures of staffers and community members in the office, diagrams of the office layout, and pictures of children with their parents that were labeled “orphan.”

The defense then called Anne Arundel County Police Department crime scene technician Kimberly Morrissette, who went over the location of evidence and victims. During cross examination, Leitess pointed out bullet holes in the wall consistent with previous testimony that one of the survivors was shot at running out the front door. In addition, there were shotgun shells that were not used that Morrissette documents. Morrissette also found goggles and ear plugs.

Finally, the defense called to the stand Annapolis City Police Officer Wesley Callow, who responded to the shooting. He found the suspect hiding under a desk.

ABOUT THE JURY:

It is made up of eight men and four women. Many, or immediate family members, have a mental health/law enforcement/legal background.

ABOUT THE TRIAL:

The trial is expected to last 10 business days. Judge Michael Wachs said the bulk of the trial will be testimony from doctors and mental health professionals.

The jury has to make a decision based on a preponderance of the evidence, the lowest standard of proof. Defense attorney O’Donnell said it means more likely so than not.

Because the defendant has not been vaccinated, he has to wear a mask. Defense asked that he be able to wear a clear mask so potential jurors could see his face, but it was fogging up his glasses so he chose to wear a black cloth mask so much of his face could not be seen.

He is also allowed to wear civilian clothing but chose not to.