Capitol Gazette Shooter Planned to Blow up a Building, Studied Mass Shootings Before Annapolis Attack

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By Alex Mann
From The Baltimore Sun

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

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 didn’t have 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.

People walk down Main St. during a candlelight vigil to honor the 5 people were shot and killed at the Capital Gazette newspaper yesterday, in Annapolis, Md., on June 29, 2018. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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

However, Ramos, resigned to the fate of spending the rest of his life in prison, learned that 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.

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.

“His first way of thinking was a mass destruction and then he changed to a mass shooting,” State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said Wednesday morning, describing in court some of the contents of reports authored by mental health professionals tasked with evaluating Ramos’ sanity.

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 ordered Patel to evaluate the gunman’s sanity.

A woman holds today’s edition of the Capital Gazette newspaper during a candlelight vigil to honor the 5 people who were shot and killed yesterday, in Annapolis, Md., on June 29, 2018. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Patel’s report went further, saying Ramos “had fantasies” of shooting up the newspaper, which is part of Baltimore Sun Media, or blowing up the building “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 attempted to get 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. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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