Judge Laura Ripken will preside over the Capital Gazette shooting case, which is set to begin early next month. Drawing by Hannah Gaskill, Capital News Service. Drawing by Hannah Gaskill, Capital News Service.

Judge orders mental evaluation remain private in criminal phase of Capital Gazette trial

By: Hannah Gaskill, Captial News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Attorneys in the Capital Gazette shooting trial are not to discuss the findings of the defendant’s mental health evaluation during the guilt or innocence phase of proceedings, Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Laura Ripken ruled during a Friday motion hearing.

Because the case is bifurcated–or split into two–each side will deliver up to two opening statements once proceedings begin: one during the phase to determine guilt or innocence; and the other during the criminal responsibility portion.

Assistant State’s Attorney James Tuomey said the introduction of the report during the criminal phase would confuse the jurors, largely because the burden of guilt, which rests on the shoulders of the prosecution, differs from that of the criminal responsibility, which is for the defense to prove.

Tuomey and State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess is prosecuting the shooting case that resulted in the deaths of journalists Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, Robert Hiaasen, and John McNamara, as well as advertising assistant Rebecca Smith after a gunman shot through the doors of the Capital Gazette business offices on June 28, 2018. Six other Capital Gazette employees present in the office survived.

Ripken also denied a defense motion that Leitess should be sanctioned for failing to provide adequate information concerning an investigation into Jarrod Ramos on behalf of the Capital Gazette in 2015. Ripken ruled that the state responded adequately.

Ramos is facing five counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder and six counts of assault, among other charges. He has pleaded not guilty — and not criminally responsible, which is akin to an insanity plea in the state of Maryland.

The Capital Gazette became the object of Ramos’ rage in 2011 after the publication of a column detailing his guilty plea to harassment charges in a case levied against him by a former high school classmate.

In records from the suit, a woman who had graduated from Arundel High School with Ramos in 1997 stated that he contacted her via email in 2009. While their initial interaction was friendly, it later took a turn. The woman wrote in court documents that he told her to kill herself and had even gone as far as contacting her employer.

The Capital Gazette published the column about the conviction in July 2011. This prompted Ramos to take the newspaper to court, where he represented himself in a defamation lawsuit that was eventually dismissed.

Ramos also filed a suit in 2014 against his harassment victim, whom Capital News Service is not naming, and her attorney, Brennan McCarthy. It was similarly dismissed.

The paper, its staff members and McCarthy, among others, became frequent targets on a Twitter account in Ramos’ name, until it appeared to go dark in January 2016. The account tweeted again, on the afternoon of the shooting.

Ramos requested a trial by jury in his criminal case, prompting a unique jury selection process. Members of the jury pool will be individually questioned, a process called “voir dire,” by Ripken, the state and defense counsel, sequestered from the other summoned individuals.

To begin the process, 322 Anne Arundel County residents convened the courthouse on Sept. 27 to fill out a questionnaire as a pre-sorting process. Ripken has instructed both the state and defense counsel to review model jury selection questions produced by the Maryland State Bar Association. They are expected to convene later this month to discuss what will be included.

The voir dire portion of the jury selection is set to begin at the end of this month. The trial to determine Ramos’ guilt is set to begin Nov. 4.


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