Lawyers argue over video evidence in newspaper shooting

Attorney for a man accused of killing five people at a Maryland newspaper says parts of surveillance video are so upsetting to watch that scenes would "unduly prejudice the jury"

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Parts of surveillance video showing the deadly shooting inside a Maryland newspaper in progress are so upsetting to watch that the recording would "unduly prejudice the jury," a defense attorney told a judge Tuesday, while a prosecutor said the video is "the most important evidence in the case."

Elizabeth Palan, an attorney for Jarrod Ramos, focused on part of the recording that shows one of the five victims who died in the attack at the Capital Gazette newsroom trying to escape after being wounded. Palan described it as "inflammatory" and "inherently upsetting to watch."

"It is very graphic," Palan said, adding that still photographs of the scene should be used instead.

Anne Colt Leitess, the state's attorney who is prosecuting the case, told Judge Laura Ripken that she couldn't think of any case law to suggest evidence should be "dumbed down and neutered." She described the video as "the silent witness in this case."

"It's very powerful evidence to show the defendant's intent to kill," Leitess said.

The recording shows Ramos wearing earplugs and shooting glasses and checking to make sure the laser sight on his gun was on before he tries to open a locked door and shoots his way inside, Leitess said.

The video shows sales assistant Rebecca Smith, who later died at a hospital, trying to crawl away after being shot, while two others in the office escape, Leitess said. The video shows Smith after she was shot a third time as she sought to get away, Leitess said, though the video doesn't show her actually being shot.

Leitess described the video as showing the laser sighting flash on the wall, near where photographer Paul Gillespie's head had just been — before he ran out of the office. The video also shows Ramos physically pumping the shotgun as he fires.

"You see him making that motion," Leitess said.

A video recording also shows the back of the office, where police say Ramos had barricaded a door to prevent people from escaping. Video of the front is just over an hour in length, while video from the back is about 34 minutes.

Ripken made arrangements to view the video Tuesday after court. She said she would hear more arguments the next day, and a ruling could come as soon as Wednesday.

Ramos has pleaded not guilty and not criminally responsible, Maryland's version of an insanity defense. He's charged with five counts of first-degree murder and other charges. John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiassen also died in the attack.

Police say they arrested Ramos after the June 2018 shooting as he hid under a desk in the newsroom.

Ramos, 39, had a long history of harassing the Capital Gazette's staff. He filed a defamation suit against the newspaper in 2012 that was thrown out as groundless, and he often railed against the newspaper in tweets.

His anger at the newspaper began with an online harassment and stalking case stemming from contact with a high school classmate in late 2009 or early 2010. The woman eventually went to police, and Ramos pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge. The newspaper's story about the case touched off a tirade from Ramos.

Defense attorneys have been arguing for weeks over issues relating to discovery, a legal process involving evidence exchanges between the defense and the prosecution, and they have asked the judge to sanction prosecutors. Ripken said Tuesday she believes prosecutors have gone "above and beyond" in supplying information.

Three days of jury selection are scheduled to begin Oct. 30. The trial is set to start Nov. 4.


This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of 'Palan' throughout.