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Mental health experts give differing opinions during Capital Gazette mass shooter trial

capital gazette shooting ap
Posted at 4:46 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 18:22:37-04

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The battle of the experts continued in court Monday for day nine of the Capital Gazette mass shooter trial.

The state’s first mental health expert disagreed with the defense’s experts, testifying that the gunman Jarrod Ramos’ disorders are personality related and not psychotic.

Psychologist Marshall Cowan, who works at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, Maryland’s maximum security psychiatric facility, was accepted as an expert witness for the state. He was assigned to perform a psychological evaluation of the defendant because another state’s witness asked for a second opinion.

Cowan spent eight hours with Ramos, using several tests and conversations and diagnosed him with Schizotypal personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, with obsessive compulsive personality disorder traits. He did not find any evidence that the defendant was exaggerating symptoms.

Cowan reported issues with thinking and interacting with other people, a tendency to isolate and be suspicious and a sense of guarded-ness. Cowan said Ramos was odd in his presentation and in some cases, over forth coming. He had endorsed paranoia about the court system and the people involved in his lawsuit.

He said he ruled out psychotic disorders, saying Ramos had overvalued ideas but not delusions. He disagreed with the defense experts that he has autism spectrum disorder, saying it would be difficult to diagnose a 39-year-old man with autism. Cowan said Ramos denied having compulsions like described with OCD.

He said he doesn’t want to over-pathologize people and he looks for the easiest diagnosis that best explains the behaviors and that is the two personality disorders.

He was not able to see any evidence or discovery materials until after his report was finished. Once he got a hold of those findings after the fact, Cowan said it strengthened his diagnostic opinion.

The jury also heard from state expert clinical psychology witness Dr. Scott Bender. He did not evaluate Ramos, but instead evaluated all the reports and testing completed about him. Bender said he believes there should have been more testing done.

He found the absence of medical and academic records from age 0-18 makes it unlikely Ramos has autism spectrum disorder or it would be very mild. Bender said any evidence of ASD came from Ramos or his sister directly and not from development.

Bender said the test that was done for OCD could also test for OCPD, and someone taking the test could easily make it look like they have OCD on purpose. He described OCPD has the excessive need for order and perfection but there’s not a lot of distress or intrusive thoughts, whereas people with OCD have compulsions that are designed to get rid of the worry, i.e. checking if the door is locked over and over or washing your hands over and over even if they start bleeding.

On the delusional disorder diagnosis, Bender said his score was right at the cut off so the odds are better that he has delusional features than not, but the explanation could be because he was in jail and pre-trial at the time of the test.

Dr. Gregory Saathoff was the state’s last witness for the day, accepted as an expert forensic psychiatrist.

He also did not evaluate Ramos, but he has access to more information than Bender to make his assessment, including videos of Ramos after his arrest, a tour of his cell and interviews with jail staff, as well as the other expert reports from the state and defense. He also interviewed Ramos’ sister for two hours.

He noted that the defense experts gave an excessive reliance on what Ramos told them instead of corroborating his statements. He said the experts came to conclusions about his diagnosis that no other mental health professional who evaluated him came to, based on unverified statements.

For instance, he told defense experts that he compulsively pulled out his eyebrows. Saathoff was not able to find any evidence of that. Also, he noted that Ramos told defense experts that the only way he could read the newspaper in his cell was while pacing, but in interviews with correctional officers, they told Saathoff that he would read in his bunk and they never saw him walking in his cell, reading.

He also said that although Ramos told the defense experts that he was germaphobe, but Saathoff learned he would eat off of other inmates plates, which he believes in inconsistent. He also noted that he gathered from interviews that Ramos treated correctional officers and mental health professionals different. He would engage with correctional officers but would not cooperate with mental health professionals.

The trial will pick back up Tuesday with the Dr. Saathoff.