ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The man who killed five people at a Maryland newspaper suffers from autism, obsessive compulsive disorder and delusional disorder, a mental health expert retained by his attorneys testified Tuesday during a trial to determine whether he is criminally responsible due to insanity.
Dr. Catherine Yeager was the second mental health expert to testify about disorders that attorneys say afflict Jarrod Ramos in a case that will largely be a battle between mental health experts.
She testified that she supported a previous doctor's diagnosis revealed in court last week that Ramos suffers from “autism spectrum disorder." Dr. Thomas Hyde, a neurologist and neuroscientist also retained by defense attorneys, said Ramos "falls in the milder to moderate spectrum of these problems.” Prosecutors questioned his report's validity last week, noting an error and alleging the findings relied too much on Ramos' account.
Defense attorneys, who have the burden of proof and are presenting their case first, have another mental health expert set to testify as soon as Wednesday who contends Ramos is not criminally responsible due to mental illness.
Ramos already has pleaded guilty to 23 counts in the killings of Wendi Winters, John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen and Rebecca Smith at the Capital Gazette newspaper on June 28, 2018. If he were found not criminally responsible, he would be committed to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital instead of prison.
Prosecutors, who are seeking life without possibility of parole, also have experts they plan to call who believe Ramos is criminally responsible.
Yeager, a clinical psychologist, gave examples in court of how the disorders have shown themselves in Ramos over the years, based on screenings and evaluations during 15 hours of interviews over three days with him, a phone conversation with a former friend and Ramos' sister.
Some of the examples Yeager cited came from the 41-year-old's years in elementary school, when a friend described him as a “rigid thinker” who tended to dress the same way every day and lined up action figures meticulously.
The friend also knew Ramos when he returned for high school after a period of living in England with his family, Yeager said. The friend described Ramos as a changed person who would go on “ranting about different things.”
She also testified of about 20 rituals or obsessive thoughts that Ramos described to her. Yeager said Ramos told her that in high school he felt painfully aware of his presence around other people — and felt he was somehow infringing on other people in face-to-face encounters. As a result, he avoided being around people.
“What he said to me was, in high school when he was out of a person’s presence, he felt relief,” Yeager said.
In what she described as one of the more bizarre examples, Yeager said he told her during an interview with her and colleague, Dr. Dorothy Lewis, that he has an automatic thought process of symmetry, so when he speaks to people their noses have to line up as an equilateral triangle.
“So that gives you an example of a very irrational obsession," Yeager said.
Ramos also told Yeager he has a fear of filth and germs that he believes started when he was a young adult, and he spoke of a ritual he goes through when he showers.
“He has a procedure for every part of his body,” Yeager, whose testimony is scheduled to continue Wednesday, said.
Ramos 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 guilty plea in a criminal harassment case in 2011. The defamation suit was dismissed as groundless.