Judge in newspaper shooting case rules on evidence sharing

A judge presiding over the case of a man accused of killing five people at a Maryland newspaper rules on pretrial motions

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A Maryland judge on Wednesday denied a request from prosecutors to hire their own psychiatrist to conduct a second mental health evaluation for a man accused of killing five people at a newspaper last year, but the judge granted their requests for his tax returns, as well as records relating to his educational background and incarceration at a detention center.

The rulings by Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Laura Ripken came during a long and contentious day of arguments between attorneys representing Jarrod Ramos and prosecutors over issues relating to discovery, a legal process in which information about evidence is exchanged between the defense and the prosecution.

Ramos, whose attorneys have entered an insanity defense, already is undergoing a mental health evaluation by the state health department.

James Tuomey, an assistant attorney general, said prosecutors want to conduct their own independent psychiatric exam on Ramos, because the defense has made Ramos' mental health "a central issue in this case."

But Katy O'Donnell, an attorney for Ramos, said it would be too much to expect her client to go through another exam. She said he already has been examined for more than 20 hours over several days.

"The state is not entitled to its own psychiatric advocate," O'Donnell said.

Ripken granted a request from prosecutors for Ramos' tax records dating back to 2004. Prosecutors contend the records will clearly demonstrate Ramos' mental state in the years leading up to the attack and that he is someone capable of appreciating the criminality of his conduct.

Ripken also granted prosecutors access to records relating to his educational background and his incarceration at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center, where he has been held without bail since the shooting last year. Prosecutors have expressed interest in records relating to Ramos' activity in jail, as well as who has been visiting him.

During the hearing, attorneys testified that Ramos threatened to kill an inmate he had argued with about newspapers, though defense attorneys and prosecutors did not provide much context about the allegation. Attorneys also testified about another inmate who had spoken of observations he had made about Ramos.

Defense attorneys have argued that they have not received enough information from prosecutors about the case against their client. They have specifically asked for messages Ramos wrote against the Capital Gazette on the social media site Twitter. O'Donnell said the messages represent "documented deterioration" of their client's mental health, dating back to 2010. She told the judge that there is "a great deal" of information about their client that they don't have.

State's Attorney Anne Leitess, however, told the judge that prosecutors have gone "above and beyond" in turning over documents in their possession.

"We've given them what we have," Leitess said.

Ripken said the state has an ongoing responsibility to provide information about the case to the defense, and she said she is satisfied the state has done so to the extent that it can.

"The state is not required to go out and do additional research," Ripken said.

Ramos, 39, had a well-documented history of harassing the Capital Gazette's journalists. He filed a lawsuit against the paper in 2012, alleging he was defamed in an article about his conviction in a criminal harassment case in 2011. The Capital newspaper had published a story describing allegations by a woman who said Ramos harassed her online for months. The defamation suit was dismissed as groundless, and Ramos railed against staff at the newspaper in profanity-laced tweets.

In the days after the attack, area judges and an attorney received letters that threatened the newsroom and were signed with Ramos' name.

Capital Gazette employees John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen were killed in the attack . Journalists crawled under desks and sought other hiding places, describing agonizing minutes of terror as they heard the gunman's footsteps and repeated shotgun blasts. County police said they captured Ramos hiding under a desk.

Ramos is scheduled to be tried in November on first-degree murder charges in the June 2018 shooting.