ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CN) — Attorneys for the man who killed five people in a siege of the Capital Gazette’s Maryland newsroom fought Thursday to limit evidence from a psychiatrist who is ready to testify about the gunman’s mental state without having ever interviewed him.
Invoking Maryland’s version of an insanity defense, Jarrod Ramos will face commitment to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital instead of a prison if the jury accepts his plea that he is guilty but not criminally responsible due to mental illness.
Judge Laura Ripken already ruled last month that Dr. Gregory Saathoff can testify for the state at Ramos’ trial in December, but she convened the two-day hearing that wrapped up this afternoon to determine the specifics of what Saathoff can say.
Though Saathoff has not interacted with Ramos directly, he did observe the 40-year-old defendant through the window of his jail cell, and he interviewed 35 personnel in the jail about him.
Matt Connell, one of three public defenders for Ramos, argued Thursday that, since Saathoff came to his conclusion about criminal responsibility by examining the arrangement and organization of Ramos’ personal hygiene products, the jury should also be allowed to view Ramos’ living conditions.
But prosecutors argued it was unlikely Ramos’ cell would be in the same condition as when Saathoff had examined it — especially since Ramos had already been moved to another facility.
They also called it improbable that exactly what Saathoff had observed can be recreated for a forced juror visit, or whether such a trip would even be possible while adhering to keeping people at least six feet apart to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Ripken, who is married to the famed Baltimore Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken Jr., has twice denied requests by prosecutors to let Saathoff interview Ramos. She did, however, permit Dr. Sameer Patel, a Maryland Department of Health expert, to spend 20 hours with the shooter when he pleaded insanity. Court records also show that a defense expert identified only as Dr. Lewis has interviewed Ramos.
Saathoff’s opinion of Ramos takes Patel’s observations into account, something that public defender Katy O’Donnell argued Thursday allows prosecutors to improperly bolster the affirmative assignment of criminality.
O’Donnell called it “axiomatic” that Saathoff would need to be interview Ramos before assigning an opinion,
David Russell, one of two prosecutors arguing for the state, said Saathoff wasn’t adopting or parroting the opinion of Patel, but was rather forming his own clinical opinion Ramos’ state of mind based on Patel’s observations. In a similar vein, Russell noted, medical examiners for the defense and prosecution in a murder trial don’t typically perform two autopsies to come to separate conclusions: they rely on previous findings.
O’Donnell pushed back, differentiating the psychiatric conclusion from hard data. While a DNA expert or fingerprint expert has the opportunity to review data and draw their own conclusions from that data, O’Donnell said the only evidence essential to determining someone’s mental capacity was that person.
Ramos’ defense also want Saathoff barred from comparing Ramos to hikers on the Appalachian Trail — which Ramos walked in 2002.
The prosecution has noted, though, that the defense expert Dr. Lewis referred to Ramos’ behavior on the trail in forming his opinion that Ramos has an “autistic and delusional understanding of the world.”
Apparently Ramos traversed the trail north to south to avoid other hikers.
Ramos publicly harassed staff at the Capital Gazette for years before he opened fire in the its Annapolis newsroom on June 28, 2018, killing journalists Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.
Having been convicted of criminal harassment a year earlier, Ramos sued the paper for defamation in 2012. When his suit was dismissed as groundless, Ramos used Twitter to rail against the newspaper staff in obscenity-ridden posts.
Ramos was hiding under a desk at the newsroom after the shooting when police apprehended him.
Judge Ripken said she will decide the parameters of Saathoff’s on September 18.