Man accused in deadly Capital Gazette shooting now enters insanity defense

The man accused of killing five people in last year’s deadly attack of the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, pleaded not criminally responsible by reason of insanity on Monday.

Jarrod Ramos, 38, of Laurel, Maryland, entered a plea of not guilty and not criminally responsible.

The state will conduct its own evaluation to determine whether Ramos was not criminally responsible. A doctor independent from the prosecution will write a report with recommendations, and that report will then be sent to defense attorneys, prosecutors and the court.

Trial is tentatively scheduled for November, and the Capital Gazette reported Monday that there could in fact be two trials — one focused on guilt, the other focused on criminal responsibility.

Prosecutors are seeking life in prison without possibility of parole.

It would be up to Ramos’ lawyers to prove a mental illness drove him to commit violence. W. Lawrence Fitch, a professor of mental health at the University of Maryland, said that would be difficult.

“There’s studies that show about 16% of folks in jail have a serious mental illness, but only a fraction — about 1 in 1,000 — are found not criminally responsible,” Fitch said.

“Mental illness, generally, is not a risk factor for violence,” Fitch added. “Most people with serious mental illnesses pose no risk of harm at all, particularly to others.”

Five people were shot to death in the Capital Gazette newsroom in June 2018, and Ramos was indicted on 23 charges in the attack, including murder. Killed in the attack were Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters and John McNamara. Six other staffers survived the attack.

Letters that threatened the newsroom and were signed with Ramos’ name were received by area judges and an attorney in the days following the attack.

At a court hearing earlier this month, an attorney for Ramos made several references to his client’s “bizarre language” and “bizarre behavior” leading up to the June 28 mass shooting. Attorney William Davis said Ramos had “longstanding” mental health issues and a period of “mental health disturbances.” Davis also said a mental health expert has been working with the defense.

The Associated Press and WTOP’s John Domen contributed to this report.

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