Gunman found criminally responsible for killing 5 at US newsroom

Jarrod Ramos, 41, pleaded guilty in October 2019 to 23 charges, including five counts of first-degree murder. PHOTO: AFP

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

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

Ramos, 41, 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 Ramos could be held criminally responsible for his actions or whether, as doctors called by Ramos' lawyers had argued, he had been driven by mental illness to carry out the shooting.

Had the jury found that Ramos was not criminally responsible, he would have been committed to a state mental hospital.

Prosecutors argued that Ramos methodically planned the shooting, believing that the newspaper office was a "soft target", after ruling out an attack on a Maryland court building that was more heavily guarded.

Such planning, prosecutors said, showed that Ramos was mentally competent and capable of conforming his actions to the law.

Even the simple tasks that Ramos completed in his daily life - going to the bank, changing the oil in his car, taking care of his cat - demonstrated that he was mentally sound, prosecutors said.

Ramos' lawyers described him as a loner who was fuelled 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 also testified at the trial, recalling in painful detail the day that Ramos walked through their workplace with a 12-gauge shotgun, killing Ms Rebecca Smith, 34, Ms Wendi Winters, 65, Mr Rob Hiaasen, 59, Mr Gerald Fischman, 61, and Mr John McNamara, 56.

The jury deliberated less than two hours before finding that Ramos was criminally responsible for the attack.

"Finally, my husband's soul can rest in peace," Ms Erica Fischman, the widow of Gerald Fischman, the newspaper's editorial page editor, said after the verdict. "After three painful, sorrowful years, justice has finally prevailed."

Ms Andrea Chamblee, Mr McNamara's widow, said the attack had rippled across the county, state and country. She said such shootings could happen anywhere "as long as dangerous people have easy access to firearms".

Prosecutors said Ramos had carried out the shooting as a form of revenge after The Capital Gazette published an article in 2011 about his guilty plea in a harassment case.

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

Ramos also used a Twitter account to taunt the reporter who wrote the article. 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 employees directly.

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"The state showed that he was criminally responsible and that, even though he may have had a mild personality disorder, he knew what he was doing, his conduct was wrong, he appreciated the criminality," Ms Anne Colt Leitess, the state's attorney for Anne Arundel County, said at a news conference.

"I think the problem is that a lot of people hear this crime and think he must have been crazy," Ms Leitess added. "But he wasn't. It was all about revenge."

Ms Leitess said she expected that Ramos would be sentenced to at least five life terms without parole. Ramos' defence team declined to comment after the verdict.

"I am really relieved, but also still really sad," Ms Selene San Felice, a former reporter at The Capital Gazette who was in the newsroom during the shooting, said after the verdict.

She said prosecutors had notified her before the trial that Ramos had said that he regretted not shooting her and another reporter, Mr Phil Davis.

Ms San Felice, who testified at the trial, said the experience "dug up so much for us".

She said: "It feels like it's three years ago again for us, but everyone else has moved on. A lot of us, our clocks have been set back. Yes, justice was served today, but you can't take a bad thing and turn it into a good thing."

On June 28, the third anniversary of the attack, the city of Annapolis dedicated a memorial to the victims, calling it "Guardians of the First Amendment".

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