ANNAPOLIS, Md. — At the beginning of day 11, the state’s key witness, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Sameer Patel, laid out over 20 reasons why he believes the gunman, Jarrod Ramos, should be found criminally responsible in the killing of five Capital Gazette staffers three years ago.
Patel met with the defendant six times for about 20 hours total. He recalled how the gunman said he assumed he would spend the rest of his life behind bars and his goal with this trial is to turn it into a media circus and farce to give the courts a black eye. The gunman continues to hold grudge against the courts for his failed defamation suits.
There are two prongs to the criminal responsibility plea and the defense needs to prove at least one for the jury to find him not criminally responsible (NCR).
The first is that the defendant could not appreciate the criminality of his conduct. Patel gave numerous examples of how he believes the gunman did appreciate it.
Patel said Ramos told him:
- Because of his research of mass shootings and police response, Ramos knew he wouldn’t have more than five minutes to complete the attack.
- He chose the Capital Gazette because it was a soft target; he knew there wouldn’t be police there.
- He planned to be taken alive. “This was not a suicide mission.” He wanted to surrender safely.
- He had researched and made plans to deceive officers to slow their response. He brought countermeasures (smoke bombs and dragons breathe fire grenades) that he planned to use but didn’t end up using.
- A few days before the shooting, he spent his last $1,500 to purchase a lifetime membership to the US Chess Federation. He said he wanted to get the monthly magazine while in jail.
- He pulled the fuse on one smoke bomb and it wasn’t as effective as he wanted so he decided not to use anymore. He started a timer on his watch to keep track of time.
- He called 911 immediately after he was done with the shooting to alert them that he was unarmed and surrendering.
- He heard a sound by the door during the 911 call and immediately got down on the ground so he wouldn’t get shot by police.
- To ensure his safety, he went under the desk so he wouldn’t get shot. He heard on a police radio that the suspect was a white male with a ponytail so he pulled the ponytail out of his hair to look like a victim.
The second is that the defendant could not conform his conduct to the requires of the law. Patel gave numerous examples of how he believes the gunman could conform.
Patel said Ramos told him:
- In the years before the offense, he was very careful and chose behaviors to avoid arrest.
- In 2015, the judge dismissed his suit to the Capital Gazette. This was the first time he wanted to but didn’t attack the newspaper
- He waited until the end of probation before harassing the online harassment victim again.
- Reporter in lawsuit said Ramos was careful of how he phrased things on Twitter because he wanted to come off threatening without writing anything that would be actionable by police.
- He was able to change targets. He wanted to attack the Court of Appeals, but he switched to a ‘soft target.’
- Ramos knew in 2015 he wanted to do something big. In 2016, he knew he would attack the Capital but he waited two years. He bought the gun in 2017 and waited 1.5 years, controlling his behavior.
- Even in the months before the attack, he wanted to maintain a low profile.
- He stopped tweeting in 2016 because he wanted to give the victims a false sense of security
- He did in-person reconnaissance in February 2017. He picked a cold day so he could be bundled up and not be recognizable. He purchased a cell phone to take video of the hallway. He destroyed the phone right after that because he had no other need for it and didn’t like cell phones.
- He purposefully chose not to buy the weapon until after the recon so if he was caught at the building, a recent gun purchase wouldn’t raise flags.
- He didn’t take the shot gun to the range because he didn’t want to raise any flags.
- He did a tremendous amount of research to plan and reduce unknown variables.
- He chose the date because he though the community editorial board would be there and he wanted to place liability on the Capital Gazette because he assumed the victims’ families would sue the newspaper.
- He was very methodical about how he planned and did things. He had a computer file containing everything he needed to do before the attack. He tracked his credit cards so he could stay under the limit. He destroyed his hard drive right before the shooting.
- On the day of the attack, he cut his hair shorter, he shaved his beard, and wore a shirt and tie to look normal. He put weapons in a bag.
- He had pre-planned contingencies. He barricaded the door. He planned to put a Barracuda under the next door office so they couldn’t help.
- The only thing that didn’t go according to plan was after he thought he was done with the shooting, he went looking for a computer to tweet and that’s when he saw a victim hiding under a desk. He went back to get his gun and shot him at close range. Ramos told him he took a moment after shooting him to enjoy himself. That’s the first time he took extra personal pleasure in what he did that day. “There’s no mental health disorder that I could classify for that.”
- Before the attack, he planned to send a tweet out from an office computer, which he did
- Ramos wanted to surrender as safety as possible so he dropped his weapon away from where he was hiding and called 911 to say he surrendered. Then he laid on the ground and under a desk to safely be arrested. He never intended to escape but he wanted to look like a victim so he wouldn’t be shot. When he was found, he immediately said ‘I surrender’ so he could safely be taken into custody. He was able to control himself. Patel said people that can’t conform their behavior would do something even in the presence of a police officer. “They can’t stop themselves.” He shows an understanding of the police response.
- Ramos said he spent more time waiting on the floor for police to find him than committing the offense.
- He conformed his behavior after being arrested
- Patel said there’s no element for coercion of mental illness that precipitated this attack. Ramos was upset about something that had previously happened but he didn’t feel threatened. Revenge does not justify NCR
- He used the word revenge. He couldn’t get certain people but he could harm them indirectly with survivors guilt.
- He had no remorse for what he had done. He said he had a sense of satisfaction. His only was regret was that he didn’t kill more people. He found out there were 11 people there and was mad he only killed five.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Katie O’Donnell focused on how he collected information that contributed to his 49-page background summary. Patel said aside from his sister’s interview, he established it only with direct report from the Gunman.
He listed childhood friends Ramos told him about but doesn’t reach out to any of them. He didn’t reach out to the people involved in the lawsuits either Many pages of his reports are just quotes from Ramos.
This is key because a big attack on the defense’s experts from the state is they relied too much on defendants statements when making a diagnosis.
However, Patel said he didn’t reach out to those people because they hadn’t had contact with Ramos for years leading up to the attack, and he was making a judgement about his mental state at the time of the shooting.
There weren’t many people to reach out to who Ramos had contact with in the time leading up to the shooting because he isolated himself. Patel did not interview the vet staff who he had contact with in May of 2018 when putting his cat down.
He did however reach out to the rental car agent who had contact with Ramos just four days before the shooting. The agent didn’t have any recollection which Patel interpreted as Ramos not acting strange or bizarre there, but the defense pointed out the Patel reached out to the agent a year later so it’s not unusual for him not to remember.
Patel looked at evidence: video of him being arrested and questioned, an email sent to the vet staff and letters mailed to people involved in the lawsuit on the day of the shooting.
Patel also testified that Ramos had access to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders while in jail and was reading about the symptoms of different disorders.
Late Wednesday, the state rested its case.
The defense called a rebuttal witness, Dr. Joanna Brandt, who was an expert witness in this case and did not evaluate the gunman. The goal with Brandt was for her to give her opinion about what appreciating the criminality of his conduct means to her, however the judge would not let defense ask those type of questions and she was dismissed.
Then prosecutors debated with the judge over jury instructions. The state said the wording of the law is important and asked for more clarification about what the plea means. In Maryland, the states “if the defendant appreciated the criminality of their conduct.”
In other states and previously in Maryland, the word “wrongfulness” was used.
A University of Baltimore law professor said criminality is a much stricter definition. Defense attorneys and experts have used the term wrongfulness, saying the gunman didn’t understand the impact of his actions. The state argues that’s not criminality and are worried the jurors will make the decision based on moral wrongfulness. The judge ruled with defense.
Closing arguments are set for Thursday morning and then the case goes to the jury for deliberations.