‘Three hard years’ — prosecutors, families react to verdict in Capital Gazette shooter case

Relatives of Capital Gazette shooting victims react to the verdict outside the Anne Arundel County Courthouse. (WTOP/Jack Moore)

After Jarrod Ramos was found criminally responsible for killing five people in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette, in Annapolis, Maryland, three years ago, the prosecutor who made the case to the jury said the case still hurts the community.

Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess called the case “the most egregious case that our county has ever seen, and probably one of the worst in the state of Maryland,” adding, “I had police officers and first responders who I did not call in this case because they still suffer to this day.”

“I don’t think I ever doubted that we would be where we are today,” she added. “But we had to put in a lot of work.”

The jury’s decision will help the community, Leitess said: “I think having him held responsible here in our community means everything to the city of Annapolis and our county.”

Ramos admitted years ago that he shot up the newsroom in June 2018, but argued that he wasn’t criminally responsible — Maryland’s version of the insanity plea — and should be sent to a mental health facility rather than prison. The jury took less than two hours to disagree.

Instead, he’s facing five sentences of up to life without parole for the murders, Leitess said, adding, “I fully expect” he’ll be sentenced to those. He also faces a life sentence for attempted murder and multiple sentences of 20 to 25 years on related charges.

Leitess said the jury saw through Ramos’ attempts to turn the trial into “a media circus” centered on his grievances against the newspaper, and instead focused on his behavior and actions. “He wanted this trial for his amusement,” she said, “and he didn’t get it.”

Complete coverage of the Capital Gazette shootings

She added, “A lot of people hear of this crime and think, ‘He must have been crazy; you must be crazy to commit this kind of crime.’ But he wasn’t. It was all about revenge. So I was extremely relieved and pleased with the jury’s verdict.”

Leitess said Ramos’ defense put “a lot of emphasis on his childhood, or his young adulthood, and that he was a loner, and, really an effort to feel sorry for the defendant, that he lived this lonely existence. But that was not what it was about. It was about how he was thinking and behaving on the day.”

She pointed out that the determination of Ramos’ mental state “wasn’t about saying strange things in a lawsuit. It wasn’t about being odd or eccentric. It was about understanding and appreciating the criminality of his behavior and conforming his conduct. … He was living his daily life every day; he was taking great care of his cat. He just had an agenda.”

Ramos’ defense attorneys left the courthouse without comment, WJZ reported.

‘A lot more than five’

Andrea Chamblee, the widow of shooting victim John McNamara, said, “I think when people talk about the five victims of this violent crime, you can look around and see there’s a lot more than five. … There are a lot of people who couldn’t be here today because they have to choke on their own words when they talk about this horrific crime.”

She closed with an appeal for gun control.

“It’s time our government officials protect more than just themselves,” Chamblee said. “Dangerous men with easy access to firearms should not be able to murder us in our newsrooms, in our offices, in our yoga studios, in our movie theaters, in our high schools and in our elementary schools. … It can happen anywhere as long as dangerous people have easy access to firearms.”

She added, “I call on our government officials to protect us as well as they protect themselves.”

John San Felice, the father of a shooting survivor, thanked the prosecutors and police, and said the trial proved Ramos was “a monster who needs to be put away permanently.”

“Three hard years,” he said, his voice breaking. “Three hard years we’ve suffered, and they put an end to our suffering.”

The verdict dispelled any lingering doubt for the victim’s families that Ramos might somehow avoid prison.

“It’s been a never-ending nightmare,” said Cindi Rittenour, sister of Rebecca Smith, one of the dead. “And then hearing that today — just all my anxiety over it, all the wonderings, the unknowns, it’s all gone away now, and all I feel is just relief and happiness. I feel like my sister can finally start to rest in peace.”

Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen also died in the attack.

Danielle Ohl was a reporter at the Capital Gazette when Ramos attacked and came to Annapolis for the verdict.

“It’s the culmination of three excruciating years, waiting for a result in the trial and waiting to find out if the man who kind of ruined our families and newsroom would go somewhere with the potential to be released,” Ohl said.

Paul Gillespie, a photojournalist at the paper, said he suffers from PTSD, anxiety and depression since the attack. In court, he described the breeze of shotgun pellets whizzing by as he fled the newsroom to safety.

“With this being over now, I’m hoping things get a little better, but I don’t know what the future holds,” Gillespie said.

“He’s evil; he’s not crazy. He deserves to be in prison, and I hope he gets all five life terms,” he said of Ramos.

Judge Michael Wachs did not set a date for sentencing, but estimated it would take place in about two months.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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