300 sent notices for jury duty in newspaper shooting case

The judge in the case of a man accused of killing five people at a Maryland newspaper says 300 potential jurors are coming to court later this week

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The judge in the case of the man charged with killing five people at a Maryland newspaper said Tuesday that 300 potential jurors are coming to court late this week to answer a questionnaire in a preliminary step ahead of next month's jury selection.

Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Laura Ripken outlined the plans at a hearing in the case of Jarrod Ramos, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges in the Capital Gazette shootings. Ramos also has pleaded not criminally responsible, Maryland's version of an insanity defense.

Ripken said she will review questions by prosecutors and defense attorneys and create a preliminary questionnaire for potential jurors, who already received notice to come to court on Friday.

After previous delays, the unexpected announcement that potential jurors would be headed to the courthouse this week suggested that the trial in the high-profile case appeared to be on schedule to begin in early November. About 150 jurors are expected in the morning Friday, and 150 more in the afternoon.

In court Tuesday, attorneys wrangled over language in proposed questions as well as a narrative outlining the case. Prosecutors and defense attorneys focused on an explanation of the not criminally responsible plea.

Katy O'Donnell, one of Ramos' public defenders, told the judge her client's plea should be included and defined, because the "average, typical juror" may not be familiar with it.

"I don't think that they necessarily know what that means," O'Donnell said.

But James Tuomey, an assistant state's attorney, told Ripken that the defense has said they could still withdraw the plea of not criminally responsible before the trial, and he expressed concern about a "tainted" jury pool.

Jury selection is set to begin Oct. 30 and last for three days.

Potential jurors will be interviewed individually in the jury selection process. Ripken said she is aiming to have a pool of 100 qualified jurors to select the 12-member jury and alternates.

The trial is set to begin Nov. 4. Motions hearings have been scheduled for the first two days of October.

Ramos, 39, sat in the courtroom in dark green jail clothes during Tuesday's proceedings. He had a well-documented history of harassing the newspaper'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 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 newspaper staff on Twitter.

Police say he was arrested hiding under a newsroom desk after the June 2018 attack.

If he is found guilty, a second phase would be held to determine whether his mental state made him not criminally responsible.