Survivors, family in newspaper attack relieved by verdict

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — More than three years after the attack on the Capital Gazette newspaper that left five dead, survivors and family members of victims embraced in relief and applauded the jury for quickly rejecting the gunman’s plea of not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, Andrea Chamblee described the widespread pain and loss from one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in the U.S.

“It ripples all over — the county, the state and the country,” said Chamblee, whose husband John McNamara was slain. “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.”

The gunman, Jarrod Ramos, now faces five life terms in prison instead of being sent to a maximum-security mental health facility, where he could potentially have been released one day.

“Today, we thank the jury for their service for listening to the dizzying testimony, for viewing the horrific videos,” Chamblee said, referring to graphic surveillance footage of the rampage.

The jury of eight men and four women needed less than two hours to reject arguments from Ramos’ lawyers and their mental health witnesses that he could not understand the criminality of his actions when he attacked the newsroom on June 28, 2018.

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.

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.

Ramos, who sat in court wearing a black mask, had pleaded guilty to all 23 counts against him in 2019 but not criminally responsible — Maryland’s version of an insanity plea.

The second phase of his trial was largely a battle between mental health experts called by defense attorneys and prosecutors.

Ramos developed a long-running grudge against the newspaper after it published an article about his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of harassing a former high school classmate in 2011. He filed a lawsuit against the paper in 2012, alleging he was defamed. But it was dismissed as groundless.

Defense attorneys argued Ramos suffered from a delusional disorder, autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They contended Ramos became consumed with the idea that the article had ruined his life. His lawyers said that as his appeals failed, he came to believe there was a vast conspiracy against him involving the courts and the newspaper.

Prosecutors, however, repeatedly pointed to shortcomings in the mental health evaluations done by the defense, most relying on interviews with Ramos and his sister.

Prosecutors said Ramos acted out of revenge for the article. They said his long, meticulous planning for the attack and the way he carried it out — including plans for arrest and long incarceration — proved he understood the criminality of his actions.

They emphasized Ramos called 911 from the newsroom afterward, identified himself as the gunman and said he surrendered — further evidence he clearly understood his actions.

Anne Colt Leitess, the Anne Arundel County state’s attorney, said that although Ramos has personality disorders like narcissism, he does not have serious mental illness that would have qualified him to be found not criminally responsible for five murders.

On Thursday, she told family members and survivors that prosecutors were not going to let Ramos turn the legal proceeding into a “farce” as he had told one doctor.

“The fact that the jury came back in just two hours showed they rejected all of his games he attempted to play,” Leitess said. “He wanted this trial for his amusement, and he didn’t get it.”

Associated Press writer David McFadden contributed to this report.