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‘I Thought I Was Going to Die’: Survivors of Capital Gazette Shooting Testify

Prosecutors began introducing evidence Friday after the shooter’s public defenders spent a week presenting medical testimony in support of his insanity defense.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CN) — When Janel Cooley heard Jarrod Ramos shoot through the glass front doors of the Capital Gazette office in Annapolis, she thought it was an electrical explosion and feared the ceiling would fall on top of her. When she saw the shattered door and the gunman enter the newsroom, she hid. Then she saw two green laser sights bobbing on a cabinet.

“I remember thinking, ‘they’re going to be on me in two seconds and this is going to hurt,’” Cooley testified Friday.

The chilling testimony came on the eighth day of trial to determine whether Ramos' state of mind absolved him of criminal responsibility for the June 28, 2018, shooting. He has already admitted to killing five Gazette journalists – John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen and Rebecca Smith.

Public defenders arguing Ramos is not criminally responsible for the killings due to mental illness rested their case on Thursday. If the jury agrees with them, the shooter will be committed to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital instead of serving life in prison. The defense presentation was bookended with testimony from Dr. Dorothy Lewis, a clinical psychologist who diagnosed the shooter with a trio of mental disorders: obsessive-compulsive disorder, delusional disorder and autism.

On Friday, Maryland prosecutors called to the stand a multitude of survivors of the attack, who detailed hearing indistinct screams and the sharp, loud discharge of Ramos’ shotgun. Many testified that when they heard the first shot, they were confused as to what was happening.

Cooley, who worked for the Capital Gazette’s advertising department, said her vantage point in the office gave her the ability to see the front door, albeit blocked by her computer monitor. After hiding under her desk as Ramos came into the building, Cooley told jurors she could hear Smith softly pleading for her life.

She also testified that from her hiding spot, she saw Winters charge at the gunman up a long corridor holding a trash can, before hearing another blast from Ramos’ shotgun.

Keith Cyphers, who worked in an office suite across the hallway from the Gazette’s, testified that he was on the phone when the shooting happened and saw Ramos pointing his shotgun towards the back of the newspaper office. He told jurors he felt the sound of the blast in his chest, similar to reverberations from a large speaker.

Cyphers called the police – his 911 call played for the jury Friday – and hid under his desk, but not before seeing Ramos walk into the suite “sideways so he could aim his gun into the office.”

“I saw a woman who was either laying on the ground or was crawling across the ground on what used to be their front door and she was obviously wounded,” Cyphers testified.

Several survivors of the attack detailed to jurors how they contorted their bodies into crevices and muffled their breathing in order to live. The majority of witnesses called by Anne Leitess, the Anne Arundel County state’s attorney, pointed to their hiding spots on a large diagram of the newspaper’s offices that tilted forward to give jurors to a bird's-eye view of the space.

Phillip Davis, a criminal justice reporter for the Baltimore Sun formerly employed by the Gazette, was in the office the day of the shooting and was just feet away from Ramos when he killed McNamara. Davis testified he heard Ramos reloading shotgun shells feet from where he laid on his stomach — outstretched as far as possible to avoid his body protruding from a low, horizontal portion of the desk. Ramos made no sound as he searched the office, Davis said.

Anthony Messenger, a summer intern at the Gazette, testified about hiding under a desk alongside another intern, Selene San Felice, who also took the stand on Friday. Messenger said that at first, he thought the sound was a loud firework and that he and San Felice were the first to discover Ramos had barricaded one of the office’s only exits.

He and San Felice described watching McNamara's death as Ramos shot the Gazette editor once in the abdomen.

Several prosecution witnesses, including Cooley, Messenger and San Felice, all testified Friday, "I thought I was going to die."

Prosecutors also called a number of first responders who testified they discovered devices that seemed to prevent entry or escape from the suite. Michael Shier, a sergeant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department, described a nylon strap he found attached to an exit door behind the Gazette’s office space that ratcheted closed as it dug into the doorframe.

Two forensic pathologists who did autopsies of the slain journalists took jurors through which wounds had proved fatal on each of the victims, before prosecutors shifted to undermining the insanity defense.

One Anne Arundel County police officer, Matthew Johnson, testified about Ramos’ ability to follow officer commands after he was placed into custody. Johnson said he spent three hours with Ramos after his arrest.

When officers asked Ramos to remove his clothes, hand over his belongings and follow other commands, he had complied without issue, Johnson said.

“He was communicating with us, he told us he wouldn’t be able to see without his glasses,” Johnson said. “He was looking up at me when he was talking. I didn’t see any issues at all.”

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