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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Prosecutors Pick Apart Newsroom Shooter’s Insanity Defense

On the ninth day of trial to determine the criminal responsibility of the gunman who killed five journalists at a Maryland newspaper office, psychologists testified for the state about behavior indicative of the shooter’s sanity.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CN) — A psychologist appointed by the state of Maryland to evaluate Capital Gazette shooter Jarrod Ramos’ mental competence told jurors Monday the admitted killer hadn’t shown any signs of mental disorders asserted by his defense attorneys.

Dr. Marshall Cowan, a clinical and forensic psychologist who works at the Clifton T. Perkins maximum-security psychological facility in Maryland, testified that Ramos had been given a number of mental assessments during the eight hours Cowan spent evaluating him. Outside of telling the psychologist he felt he only had a normal childhood when his family relocated to England for his father's military service, Ramos didn’t appear to have any abnormal behaviors, Cowan said.

Day nine of the trial to determine whether Ramos' state of mind absolved him of criminal responsibility for the June 28, 2018, shooting was preceded by emotional testimony Friday from survivors who detailed watching the gunman stalk through the Gazette office suite with a 12-guage shotgun. Ramos has already pleaded guilty to the killing of five journalists: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.

On Monday, prosecutors again called Jason DiPietro, the lead detective in the case for Anne Arundel County’s police department, who went over a number of findings regarding Ramos’ bank statements and financial records. Ramos had spent a couple hundred dollars in the days before the shooting to secure a lifetime chess membership and a rental vehicle, which he pictured driving in ATM photos days before the attack.

Cowan then took the stand and testified that he had given a number of psychological tests to Ramos – including a structured inventory of malingered symptomatology test, a wide range achievement test and a personal assessment inventory test – all used in part to measure Ramos’ mental ability. Cowan explained one reason for administering a wide range achievement test to patients was to gauge their reading comprehension. He said Ramos’ understanding was at a high enough level to comprehend tests experts were giving to him.

The structured inventory of malingered symptomatology test, Cowan explained, is often used by clinicians to discover whether a patient is underselling or exaggerating potential symptoms of mental illness. Cowan testified there was no indication Ramos had done either during his assessment. He opined that Ramos suffered from narcissistic and schizotypal personality disorders, which were evidenced by his delusions against the newspaper and his attempts at seeking therapy for his anxiety and depression -- but not other disorders, including autism and obsessive compulsiveness, described by defense witnesses.

Dr. Scott Bender, another psychological evaluator who also teaches clinical psychology at the University of Virginia, testified to the allegedly incomplete picture left by mental health experts called by Ramos' defense team. For example, Bender said he thought it was peculiar defense experts only administered to Ramos an autism quotient test – which he described as more like “a screener” evaluation for the disorder – and hadn’t also given him an autism diagnostic observation schedule test, which he described as the gold standard.

Bender said other tests used by defense experts, like the Yale-Brown obsessive compulsive scale, would be easy to research and manipulate answers to appear to show symptoms of the disease. He argued psychologists testifying for the defense had also failed to take into account Ramos’ detainment, which skews results. He said Ramos' results were not unlike what psychologists expect inmates to score on those assessments.

“I do think there were indications that he was probably overstating some of his symptoms,” Bender said.

Jurors also briefly heard from Dr. Gregory Saathoff, another University of Virginia psychologist, who told jurors Ramos wasn’t observed to have any symptoms at the Anne Arundel County detention facility that impaired his cognitive ability. In fact, he said Ramos had exhibited behaviors contrary to what he had previously told defense experts contributed to his neuroses.

Saathoff said Ramos had told defense experts he needed to pace around in order to read the newspaper, which officers never observed. Saathoff interviewed more than 30 members of detention center staff, who gave Saathoff evidence of Ramos' sanity.

For example, Ramos told the defense experts he would feel the need to clean each inch of his cell if it was touched by a court officer, including the ceiling. But corrections officers told Saathoff that Ramos hadn’t done anything unusual in regard to his cleaning regiments and didn't show signs of germaphobia or other mental deficiencies.

Ramos also engaged in swapping reading materials and would go cell-to-cell to converse with other inmates, Saathoff said, which also was not indicative of his fear of germs. One officer reportedly said he would observe Ramos refuse to speak with nurses or other health professionals at the detention center, but then immediately ask officers questions. That was indicative of Ramos’ ability to conform his own behavior, Saathoff told jurors.

Saathoff’s testimony continues Tuesday morning on the 10th day of trial, the amount of time originally estimated for lawyers on both sides to present evidence. Deliberations are expected to begin Tuesday or Wednesday.

Follow Jack Rodgers on Twitter

Categories / Criminal, Trials

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