New trial date set, records made public in Capital Gazette trial

The Capital Gazette shooting Investigation / Photo: MSNBC / (MGN)
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CNS) — The Capital Gazette shooting trial has been rescheduled for early March, just as court documents with information ranging from references to DNA testing to notes about the defendant’s veterinary history recently became publicly available.

Nadine Maeser, spokeswoman for the Maryland Judiciary, said Thursday that the trial determining criminal responsibility for the man who has pleaded guilty to the June 28, 2018, murders of Gerald Fischman, Robert Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters will now begin on March 4. The trial is expected to last 13 days, Maeser said.

Jarrod Ramos said he was guilty of all 23 criminal counts against him on Oct. 28. This second part of the trial will focus on his plea of not criminally responsible—Maryland’s version of an insanity defense.

Jury selection was scheduled to begin on Oct. 30, when the trial was postponed. About 50 people from the prospective 300-member pool were waiting in a courtroom next door to the trial venue when they were excused.

The jury pool had completed its service and was released, Maeser confirmed to Capital News Service. She said Thursday that there is no information available yet on how the new trial date will affect the jury selection process.

Public Defender William Davis acknowledged at a rescheduling hearing on Oct. 30 that the delay would be disruptive to the court officers and to the victims in the case.

“We have been ready to argue on behalf of the victims in this case,” Anne Arundel County Assistant State’s Attorney James Tuomey said in court that day.

Ramos held a years-long grudge against the paper after it ran a column describing his guilty plea to the online harassment of a high school classmate.

Six employees survived the afternoon shooting, during which Ramos barricaded a back door and blasted through the front with a Mossberg shotgun. Police evacuated the survivors and found him hiding under a desk in the worst newsroom shooting in the nation’s history.

Capital Gazette employees declined to comment on the trial’s delay and referred calls to a corporate representative.

“We respect the judicial process and remain focused on supporting our staff and the (victims’ families),” Renee Mutchnik, spokeswoman for Baltimore Sun Media, which owns The Capital, said in a statement late last month.

A number of records concerning information pertinent to both portions of the trial have recently been made public. Attorneys for the Capital Gazette and Baltimore Sun petitioned the court last week to unseal a number of privileged documents and exhibits.

In their petition, counsel for the newspapers claimed this is a matter of rights, citing a “a strong presumption of access” to records throughout all stages of the trial.

Anne Arundel State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess last Wednesday filed a consent motion to seal, acknowledging that both the prosecution and defense understood that some previously confidential items may now be publicized, further stating that they both also agree that some items are “extremely inappropriate to be publicly filed.”

According to Leitess’ motion, some of these exhibits may include sensitive information about the victims of the crime or documents pertaining to Ramos’ mental health evaluations.

Presiding Judge Laura Ripken moved to keep everything that Leitess requested remained sealed.

Other documents — largely letters exchanged between the opposing parties — became available in a public court database this week, including references to witness video interviews; FBI, autopsy, DNA and ballistics reports; credit and banking records; and a memo from United States Postal Inspector Michael Martel regarding mail believed to have been sent by Ramos on the day of the attack.

Documents indicating notice of discovery also detail surviving victim Paul Gillespie’s laptop computer that was used to access Twitter moments after the shooting initiated.

During the hearing last week where Ramos pleaded guilty, Public Defender Elizabeth Palan stated that an account under Ramos’ name tweeted from the newsroom that afternoon.

All of the actual documents and exhibits — including autopsies, Ramos’ mental health and jail records and police files — referenced in these correspondences remain undisclosed.

In the now publicly available records is information from the State’s Attorney’s Office to opposing counsel concerning Ramos’ visit to Rocky Gorge Animal Hospital in Laurel, Maryland, where he brought his starving pet cat.

According to the correspondence, Ramos reportedly told present vet technicians that “the cat wasn’t eating and that he wasn’t feeding the cat,” which one of the animal hospital employees opined to mean that he did not understand that he was the cause of the cat’s starvation. The animal was subsequently euthanized, and Ramos took its body home in a bag.

Other records contain documents filed by the defense in June and August that reference Ramos being fired from a company that does business with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics due to “suitability concerns.”

The filings also reference the prosecution seeking his state tax records in order to demonstrate his mental state.