ANNAPOLIS, MD — Jarrod Ramos, the Maryland man accused of killing five people in a 2018 mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, has pleaded guilty to all 23 criminal charges he faced, including five counts of murder. Circuit Court Judge Laura Ripken accepted his guilty plea late in the day Monday. Jury selection will still be held Wednesday for the second phase of his trial to determine whether Ramos will be held criminally responsible.
Ramos, 39, of Laurel, fatally shot John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith and Rob Hiaasen. Six other employees who were present during the mass shooting survived, but two were wounded.
The guilty plea comes just days before Ramos’ trial was scheduled to begin. Police and prosecutors said Ramos possessed a long-standing grudge against the newspaper and lost a defamation suit against the publication after it ran a column about him pleading guilty to harassing a former high school classmate.
“This day was always coming,” Capital Gazette Editor Rick Hutzell told Capital News Service Monday. “Justice is not about the dead, it’s about the living.”
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As State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess read for about 30 minutes through all the facts of the case, employees of the newspaper, friends and family members of the victims cried, held each other and passed around tissues.
In the days preceding the shooting, Ramos rented a car, joined a chess organization and — on the day of the shooting — mailed four letters to subjects of past grievances. In one letter, he sent a target of his ire images and a video made earlier of the Capital Gazette’s offices and employees he planned to kill, Leitess said.
Video from the scene showed Ramos blocking side and rear doors to the building and the office space, shooting through glass doors into the newsroom, using a flashlight and laser sight, and firing toward employees, including the attempted murder of photographer Paul Gillespie, Leitess said.
Once the shooting stopped, police found ear plugs, shooting glasses and an ammunition belt inside a conference room, and a Timex watch and Mossberg shotgun near the shooter, Leitess said. Ramos called 911 and announced the shooting was over and, 19 minutes after he had started the attack, was found hiding under an office desk, according to Leitess.
Capital Gazette employees, family and friends of the victims — including several who survived the attack — were in court on Monday, CNS reported.
“I’m happy because I feel like today brought some closure,” said Capital Gazette reporter Rachael Pacella, who suffered a concussion and a gash in her forehead before hiding among file cabinets during the shooting. Along with Pacella and Gillespie, fellow journalists Selene San Felice, Phil Davis and intern Anthony Messenger and advertising employee Janel Cooley survived the attack.
The second portion of the trial — to determine criminal responsibility — is still set to proceed. Jurors are expected to begin convening Wednesday for the voir dire process of jury selection.
Ramos first pleaded not guilty and on April 29 entered Maryland’s version of the insanity plea. At his request, Ripken ordered the trial split into two phases: one to address whether Ramos committed the crime, a second to address whether he was insane at the time he committed the offenses. The second phase of the trial still will move forward.
According to the Capital Gazette, when Ramos was asked by the judge if he understood the plea agreement, he spoke calmly and clearly. When the judge asked if he was, in fact, guilty, he responded, “Yes, I am.”
As of 4 p.m., Ramos’ defense attorneys had not agreed to the facts outlined by the judge, telling her they wanted time to review the facts with their client, the Capital Gazette reported. Prosecutors asked Ripken to enter their statement of facts into evidence to show to the jury in the second phase of the trial, which will decide whether Ramos was sane at the time of the attack.
Natalie Finegar, a criminal defense attorney in Baltimore, told the Capital Gazette that Ramos’ plea will lessen the emotional trauma on jurors.
“It’s a very wise defense maneuver,” said Finegar, who is not involved in the case. “As defense attorneys, we’re concerned about the trauma that is inflicted on the jury by hearing all of the facts associated with the crime. It can be very difficult for a jury to experience all that trauma and then turn their attention and focus to the mental health of the defendant.”
In pre-trial hearings, prosecutors said they planned to air surveillance video from the shooting that would show Ramos “pacing” and “hunting” through the newsroom during the attack, the Washington Post reported.
Andy Jezic, a Maryland criminal defense attorney and former Anne Arundel County prosecutor, told the Washington Post a guilty plea in the case is not surprising.
“It sounds like there is overwhelming evidence that he is the killer so there would be very little reason to have the jury hear all the horrific details about him shooting everybody, but I still think they have a right to a jury trial on the insanity or not criminally responsible stage,” said Jezic, who is not involved in Ramos’s case.