The gunman who shot his way into a Maryland newsroom three years ago and killed five people there was not legally insane when he carried out the attack, a jury found Thursday.
The verdict, issued after the jury deliberated for less than an hour, means that the shooter will serve his sentence for the murders in prison rather than in a state hospital.
The shooter, 41-year-old Jarrod Ramos, claimed in court that he was not criminally responsible — Maryland’s version of the insanity defense — when he carried out the mass shooting at the offices of the Capital Gazette, Annapolis’s daily newspaper.
But the jury sided with the prosecution, finding that Ramos was criminally responsible. The verdict means jurors did not believe that Ramos had such a severe mental disorder that he was unable to understand that his actions were wrong or to follow the law.
The sanity trial reached a quick conclusion after three weeks of often intense testimony in an Annapolis courtroom.
Jurors saw videos and photographs from inside the newsroom after Ramos went on his deadly rampage there, and heard competing testimony from experts who offered differing views on Ramos’s mental health.
Defense experts concluded that Ramos has a combination of autism spectrum disorder, delusional disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder that led him to become dangerously focused on the Capital Gazette in the years before the attack.
But in chilling testimony earlier this week, a prosecution expert said that Ramos took pride in the killings and gloated about finding and murdering a victim who survived the initial attack in the newsroom.
Ramos was pleased with the notoriety he received and took pleasure in killing, the psychiatrist testified.
“There’s no mental disorder that accounts for that,” the witness said, according to The Baltimore Sun.
The Annapolis jury did not have to decide whether Ramos was guilty of killing newspaper staffers Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara and Rebecca Smith during the attack on June 28, 2018.
Ramos previously pleaded guilty to 23 charges, including five counts of murder.
The sanity trial was set to determine if he will spend the rest of his life in prison or is committed to a state hospital for an indefinite period of time. Prosecutors are seeking five life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The defense and prosecution largely agreed on what happened before and during the shooting. Ramos became obsessed with the Capital Gazette after the newspaper published an article about his involvement in a 2011 harassment case.
The story, titled “Jarrod wants to be your friend,” recounted how Ramos had reached out on Facebook to a woman he barely knew in high school. When she slowly stopped responding to him, Ramos began sending her increasingly angry messages and eventually called her workplace in an effort to get her fired.
Ramos fixated on a single line in the article, which said that his messages “rambled” and that he messaged the woman “‘expletive you, leave me alone,’ though she hadn’t written him in months.”
Ramos’s lead defense lawyer, Katy O’Donnell, told jurors in her opening statement that Ramos thought that sentence made him seem delusional.
The affront became his sole focus, occupying his entire life. He sought to restore his reputation by suing the Capital Gazette, representing himself in a defamation lawsuit that stretched on for years and ultimately failed.
With his legal options exhausted, Ramos lived as a hermit for two years, rarely leaving his basement apartment, and began planning his attack on the newspaper’s office.
He purchased tactical gear and a 12-gauge shotgun, surveilled the newsroom using publicly available photographs, and even waited for his elderly cat to die so that he would not leave it alone when he went to jail.
He traveled to the Capital Gazette’s office on the afternoon of June 28, 2018. He barricaded the office’s other exit, shot through the locked glass front door and fired a total of 11 times, killing the five staff members.
Ramos called 911 from the newsroom and was soon identified by police who responded to the office building.
Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess told jurors this week that Ramos suffered from personality disorders, none of which were severe enough to qualify him as legally insane.
The defense’s argument raised concerns among autism advocacy groups, who told the USA TODAY Network that autism spectrum disorder is not associated with violence. The groups worried that the legal argument could harm people with autism by creating an inaccurate impression that they pose a danger.
The shooting at the Capital Gazette was the deadliest attack on a newsroom in U.S. history. It shook the nation and newsrooms across the country, and brought widespread demonstrations of support for the Annapolis daily.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Madeleine O’Neill covers the Maryland State House and state issues for the USA TODAY Network. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @maddioneill.