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Capital Gazette shooter planned to blow up a building, studied mass shootings before Annapolis attack

Candles honoring Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiassen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

The man who admitted murdering five employees of the Capital Gazette newspaper nearly three years ago initially planned to blow up its building, then studied police response times to other mass shootings in hopes of staying alive, according to reports made public in court on Wednesday.

The gunman originally had another target in his sites, too: The Robert C. Murphy Court of Appeals Building, which houses Maryland’s appellate courts, the reports indicated.

The Capital Gazette gunman’s statements to a Maryland Department of Health psychiatrist show he deeply researched the attack, and that he likened his initial plot to the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. The statements — made public for the first time — provide a glimpse of issues facing jurors who will decide whether the gunman should be held criminally responsible.

Their ruling will likely determine whether he spends the rest of his life in prison or is committed indefinitely to a state psychiatric hospital.

Defense attorneys have argued that the man who killed Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters lacked the mental capacity to be held responsible. Prosecutors counter that the planning and detail exhibited by Jarrod Ramos show he was legally sane at the time.

Wednesday’s hearing gave insight into Ramos’ decision to pursue a plea of Not Criminally Responsible, Maryland’s version of the insanity defense.

“You know I originally didn’t want an attorney representing me in this case,” Ramos told Dr. Sameer Patel, a forensic psychiatrist who works for the state, according to the descriptions in court. “There is no defense for the crime I committed.”

However, Ramos, resigned to the likelihood of spending the rest of his life in prison, learned of “a light at the end of the tunnel”: He might have more free access to a computer and the internet at a psychiatric hospital rather than prison. Patel’s report said Ramos cited the additional freedom as reason to pursue an insanity defense. As such, he described the defense as “useful.”

Patel’s report explained that Ramos studied the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a guideline for psychiatrists. Patel’s colleague, a forensic psychiatrist with the health department, wrote that Ramos lacked remorse and generally responded to people in a way devoid of empathy, according to the discussions.

In court, prosecutors provided a detailed look at Ramos’ planning for The Capital attack.

The gunman read textbooks about mass shootings, including a book he quoted on a note he stuffed inside the handle of the pump-action shotgun he employed in the attack that shocked Annapolis, according to testimony Wednesday. From this research, Ramos learned the average response times of law enforcement to active shooter events and figured out how he would stay alive after carrying out his long-planned rampage.

In one part of Patel’s report, State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said, Ramos described “his desire to cause as much harm to the Court of Appeals building and the reason why he chose not to do that.”

After Ramos appealed a trial court decision, the state’s second-highest court, the Court of Special Appeals, tossed out a defamation suit Ramos filed against The Capital. In his opinion, Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr. said Ramos displayed a “fundamental failure” to understand defamation law. Ramos appealed to Maryland’s highest court, but the panel of judges declined to take up the case.

He sent letters to Moylan’s residence and to the appeals court building, among other addresses, on the day of the shooting June 28, 2018.

“His first way of thinking was a mass destruction and then he changed to a shooting,” Leitess said.

He abandoned the bombing idea at some point while researching other mass shootings and killings, including the massacres at Columbine High School in Colorado and in Parkland, Florida, both of which he referenced by name in interviews with Patel.

An Anne Arundel County judge earlier ordered Patel to evaluate the gunman’s sanity. And his report said Ramos “had fantasies” of shooting up the newspaper, part of Baltimore Sun Media, or blowing up the building that housed the newsroom “Timothy McVeigh style.” McVeigh was the man behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Leitess and Ramos’ defense attorneys at times read line by line excerpts of the reports of Patel and a forensic psychologist who he worked with, as they argued about what parts should be presented to the jury. The snippets revealed more about Ramos’ life leading up to the long-planned attack, his attempts to manipulate the court system and how he thought about the crimes.

Ramos, 41, already pleaded guilty to the murders, attempted murder and all other charges filed against him. But he maintains he was insane at the time of the mass shooting and has asked for a jury to decide whether he should be held criminally responsible.

Ramos’ attorneys asked Circuit Judge Michael Wachs to prevent the jury seeing certain parts of the reports.

Wachs redacted parts he considered speculative, irrelevant or otherwise inadmissible per evidentiary standards but allowed portions of dialogue from Ramos to the people interviewing him to remain in the reports.


© 2021 The Baltimore Sun
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