Gunman Is Found Criminally Responsible for Killing 5 at Capital Gazette

More than three years after a man carrying a deep-seated grudge and a shotgun blasted his way into a newsroom in Annapolis, Md., and killed five employees, a jury found Thursday that he was sane at the time and criminally responsible for his actions.

The finding means that the man, Jarrod W. Ramos, will be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for one of the deadliest attacks on American journalists in the country’s history.

Mr. Ramos, 41, had pleaded guilty in October 2019 to 23 charges, including five counts of first-degree murder, for the shooting at The Capital Gazette newspaper offices on June 28, 2018.

The second phase of the proceedings focused on whether Mr. Ramos could be held criminally responsible for his actions or whether, as doctors called by Mr. Ramos’s lawyers had argued, he had been driven by mental illness to carry out the shooting. Had the jury found that Mr. Ramos was not criminally responsible, he would have been committed to a state mental hospital.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Ramos methodically planned the shooting, believing the newspaper office was a “soft target,” after he had ruled out an attack on a Maryland court building that was more heavily guarded. Such planning, prosecutors said, showed that Mr. Ramos was mentally competent and capable of conforming his actions to the law.

Mr. Ramos’s lawyers described him as a loner who was fueled by delusions and who believed that The Capital Gazette and the Maryland court system were conspiring against him. The two sides presented competing testimony by expert witnesses in the trial, which lasted more than two weeks.

Six survivors of the shooting also testified at the trial, recalling in painful detail the day that Mr. Ramos walked through their workplace with a 12-gauge shotgun, killing their colleagues.

One of the survivors, Janel Cooley, a sales representative, testified that she dropped under her desk and heard her friend and co-worker, Rebecca Smith, utter some of her last words — “No, no, no,” — before Ms. Cooley heard a shotgun blast, according to The Capital Gazette, which covered the trial.

Ms. Smith, 34, was killed, along with Wendi Winters, 65, Rob Hiaasen, 59, Gerald Fischman, 61, and John McNamara, 56. On June 28, the third anniversary of the attack, the city of Annapolis dedicated a memorial to the victims, called “Guardians of the First Amendment.”

Before Mr. Ramos blasted his way into the newsroom offices, the authorities said, he had sent a number of letters, including one to The Capital Gazette’s lawyer that said he planned to go there “with the objective of killing every person present.”

Over the years, Mr. Ramos had pursued online crusades against various targets, including the criminal justice system and a mental health counseling facility.

But The Capital Gazette became a particular focus of his animus after it published an article in 2011 about his guilty plea in a previous harassment case. In that case, he was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation and ordered to attend counseling.

Mr. Ramos filed a defamation lawsuit against Capital Gazette Communications and several of its employees in July 2012. But a judge dismissed the lawsuit when Mr. Ramos could not identify anything that had been falsely reported or that he had been harmed by the article.

Mr. Ramos also tweeted under an account he called @EricHartleyFrnd, in which he taunted the reporter who wrote the article, Eric Hartley. Mr. Ramos posted screenshots of court documents relating to the defamation case and railed against other newspaper employees. His tweets were laced with profanities, and often addressed Capital employees directly, as though he were having an ongoing conversation with them.

Brenda Wintrode contributed reporting.

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