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State’s key witness takes stand in Capital Gazette mass shooter trial

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Posted at 4:46 PM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 18:25:54-04

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Day ten of the Capital Gazette mass shooter trial ended with graphic testimony from the state’s key witness, Dr. Sameer Patel, a forensic psychiatrist at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a maximum-security inpatient facility, commonly referred to as Maryland's forensic psychiatric hospital.

“He was proud of what he done. He took pleasure in that,” said Patel.

When asked what conversations were especially relevant in making his determination about the gunman Jarrod Ramos, Patel pointed out two topics from the shooting.

Patel recalled that Ramos said when he first starting shooting, Wendi Winters charged at him, throwing a trash can, and in telling this story, Patel said the defendant tried to minimize her role as a hero.

The second topic was after Ramos thought the shooting was over, he went to the conference room, putting down his gun and eyewear. Then he went to search for a computer to send a tweet, and that’s when he saw the final victim hiding under his desk. He told Patel his eyes lit up and he went back to get his gun. Patel then said he expressed joy in ending his life at close range.

“His only regret was that he was unable to kill more people,” said Patel.

Patel said the planning for that date was because it’s usually when the community board meets at the Capital Gazette and because it was just after a primary, he thought political figures, including the State’s Attorney, would be there.

Patel said he found Ramos to be extremely open and willing to talk during the 20 hours of interviews.

“He wanted to tell his story,” said Patel.

He was very flexible and accommodating during the interview. He understood cues too. He called Ramos “crystal clear” to understand. He cried a few times when talking about his cat who died, and showed other mood reactivity during the interview.

Patel also described the amount of research Ramos reported doing before the shooting, reading up on previous mass shooters and police training tactics.

He diagnosed the defendant with two personality that he said would impact his perception and how he responds but it would not impact criminal responsibility.

Before Patel, state expert witness Dr. Gregory Saathoff finished his testimony. He did not evaluate the defendant directly, but instead read all reports on him, watched videos of his arrest and interviewed his sister and staff who interacted with him jail.

The state is trying to poke holes in the defense experts diagnosis of the gunman and prove to the jury he has personality disorders, not psychotic disorders, making him criminally responsible for the murders.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Saathoff questioned some of the findings by the defense experts because they relied only on direct accounts from the gunman Jarrod Ramos, without any corroboration.

In his research, he found evidence that contradicted some of his reported behavior. He ultimately came to the opinion that Ramos is criminally responsible because he did have an appreciation for the criminality of his conduct at the time of the event and he had the ability to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.

Saathoff recalled that Ramos told defense mental health experts he licked his tray in jail to get every last calorie, which they noted was inconsistent with his germaphobia and they called it bizarre.

However in interviews with correctional officers, Saathoff learned that Ramos was often fed in another area and there was never any indication he licked anything.

Saathoff also learned that his food was thoroughly checked for contraband and Ramos did not have any issues eating food that had been touched.

The doctor also recalled the defense experts reported that Ramos said his intent was to spend the rest of his life in a cell, but he found that inconsistent with what Anne Arundel Detention Center staff told him, as well as an inmate comment card, where Ramos wrote “After my trial, I would like to be in general population pending sentences.”

Saathoff said he questions how the defense experts said Ramos’ behavior demonstrated he could not conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. This is important because it’s what the defense needs to prove for the not criminally responsible plea. Saathoff said there are numerous examples of him conforming his conduct to the law.

He said following his harassment charge, Ramos followed orders not to contact the victim but as soon as probation ended, he began to contact her. Saathoff said this demonstrates he had an ability to understand to conform his actions to the probationary law, waiting to contact her until it was legal.

Saathoff said his use of credit cards also shows his ability to conform. He took out ten credit cards and used them up to their limits and in order to maintain those cards, he had to make minimum payments, which he did.

The doctor said his conduct after the shooting also demonstrates this. He called 911, said he was the shooter and he surrender. Then he placed himself under a desk and when he was found, said ‘I surrender.’ He did not resist arrest, following all instructions.

Saathoff said while at the detention center, there are a number of different procedures that he has to go through and correctional officers he was fully compliant.

Saathoff said conduct is so important to establish criminal responsibility, in both prongs - appreciating the criminality of his conduct and conforming his conduct to the requirements of the law. He felt he had enough knowledge about his behavior to make a determination about his criminal responsibility.

In regards to the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, Saathoff said there’s nothing the defendants sister reported and nothing Ramos told the State’s psychiatrist that supported it.

Saathoff cited that Ramos’s sister said he got upset over losing a friendship bracelet given to him by his best friend from England when they moved home, which Saathoff said is inconsistent with ASD.

His sister also said he sent her silly postcards while on his Appalachian Trail trip and he would talk about friends he made and people strangers he stayed the night with. Saathoff said that requires a great deal of flexibility and trust to do that, which is not consistent with ASD.

His legacy was also very important to him. Saathoff said Ramos worked to establish a legacy before the shooting, sending letters to people involved in the lawsuits and tweeting out a message directly after the murders. His left his apartment in a specific way for investigators, leaving disturbing books out and dozens of blank CDs he knew detectives would have to look through.

In the years leading up to the shooting, he decreased spending and communication with others. In February 2017, after getting a blueprint of the building, he went into the Capital Gazette offices to perform recognizance, filming the layout.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Matthew Connell questioned Saathoff’s reliance on secondhand information: mental health reports and interviews about him. He did not evaluate Ramos and was not able to see firsthand his behaviors and mannerisms.

The defense’s line of questioning then focused on how his delusion only extended to the Capital Gazette and those involved in the lawsuits, so he could have followed other laws and that doesn’t mean he was sane at the time of the crime.

At one point, Saathoff agreed that someone with ASD can premeditate things like this crime, but he said he doesn’t believe Ramos has ASD, citing with moderate ASD, you don’t like to be touched and Ramos didn’t have an issue with that, per correctional officers, who constantly have to move him, handcuff him, etc.

Dr. Patel will take the stand Wednesday. The defense is planning to call a rebuttal witness.