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Prosecution Contests Capital Gazette Shooter’s Mental Disorder Defense

Public defenders representing Capital Gazette shooter Jarrod Ramos rested on Thursday, seven days after presenting evidence the killer was not criminally responsible for his actions.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CN) — A full week after witnesses began testifying to the mental disorders of Capital Gazette shooter Jarrod Ramos, state prosecutors on Thursday gave an opening statement about the killer’s competence.

“This case is about revenge by a person who had a well-planned out scheme,” Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Leitess said.

The state conceded that Ramos likely has mental deficiencies, but Leitess said during the prosecution’s opening statement they were not nearly as serious as what defense attorneys appointed to Ramos had opined upon for days. Court appointed psychologists would describe Ramos’ possible narcissistic personality disorder and other contributing factors to the attack in the coming days, Leitess said, but those would not have limited the shooter’s criminal responsibility.

Leitess pushed back on mental disorders assigned to Ramos by defense experts, noting the killer did not show an inflexibility often displayed in persons with autism — one of a trio of disorders psychologists say he has.  

Ramos had bought a lifetime chess membership days before committing the murders, Leitess noted, giving jurors more evidence of the meticulous planning undertaken by Ramos just before the shooting. The shooter knew he would need a hobby while incarcerated, Leitess said, memorizing his membership number and asking his mail to be forwarded to his future cell. He started separating himself from personal effects as early as 2016 — burning a journal he kept while hiking on the Appalachian trail and running up $90,000 in credit card bills he knew he would never repay.

Leitess displayed stills from Capital Gazette security cameras depicting some journalists fleeing for their lives from the scene — noting Ramos had the wherewithal to set his stopwatch before entering the building and shooting, knowing he had a limited amount of time before help would arrive.

He brought additional ammunition to prepare for other unforeseen confrontations; he brought additional door stoppers in case he needed to block another exit; he picked a specific day of the week and singled out individuals whom he wanted to harm, Leitess noted.

Leitess also expanded upon the burden of proof in the case, noting Ramos had already been proven sane — the only thing up to the jury, she said, was whether the defense had proven Ramos was insane.

“This is not a game, this is not poker, this is not chess; this is their burden of proof ladies and gentlemen,” Leitess said. “That this man, who came armed for death couldn’t appreciate the criminality and couldn’t conform his conduct.”

Questioning of Dr. Dorothy Lewis, a witness called by Ramos’ public defenders yesterday to testify to his inability to conform to society’s laws or understand his criminal responsibility in the attack, laboriously took the majority of Thursday morning.

She was the final witness called by Ramos’ public defenders and court stalled numerous times as Lewis, 82, initially talked through Judge Michael Wach’s rulings on attorney objections and other instructions. She was often admonished by the court.

Lewis examined Ramos’ understanding of an article written by former Capital Gazette editor Eric Hartley about his harassment of a woman and explained Ramos’ thinking that Hartley “really did not deserve to live.” The article “Jarrod Wants to be Your Friend” catalyzed a lawsuit against the paper that psychologists say drove the killer to a paranoid obsession over his reputation.

But from that article, Lewis explained, Ramos developed an “elaborate fantasy” and fixation on reforming his name through the shooting. In a wild and convoluted reasoning, she said, Ramos had thought that the family of the victims – John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen and Rebecca Smith – would be so enraged by his murders, they would sue the newspaper in his stead and ruin the company.

Lewis, who concluded Ramos lacked an understanding of his criminal responsibility based on her 17 hours of interviews with him, told jurors Ramos lacked remorse for his attack. Ramos had believed by conducting the shooting it “would bring the attention of the world to the corruption of society in general,” Lewis testified.

Ramos’ obsessive-compulsive disorder had contributed directly to the shooting, Lewis said, his fixation forcing him to “destroy the target of his obsession.” The killer’s “careful investigation” prior to the attack – researching the Capital Gazette’s office layout and how to prevent those present from leaving the building through door stoppers all contributed to the event, but it was Ramos’ “obsession with an unjust world” that was the true motivator, she said.

As for Ramos’ cat Tiger, Lewis said she was “touched” by the killer’s attachment to a living thing — what she believed was the only thing binding him to reality or the sanity he had. He would often sit with the cat – which he referred to as his “fur wife” – unmoving for days and urinating in bottles as to not disturb the animal. When it died it was “if the reins had broken on the horse,” Lewis said.

Lewis did say Ramos had an understanding of the law and that he knew he had done something that would result in punishment.

“I think the wrongfulness of his crime, he knows what he did, and he knows what the law is,” Lewis said.

Follow Jack Rodgers on Twitter.

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