Judge rules on discussing insanity plea in newspaper attack

Brian Witte
Associated Press

Annapolis, Md. – A judge in the case of a man charged with killing five people at a Maryland newspaper directed attorneys on Friday to avoid referring to his mental health or his plea of not criminally responsible in the first phase of his trial.

Prosecutors asked Judge Laura Ripken to preclude any discussion about the mental health of Jarrod Ramos in the first part of his trial, when jurors will be asked to determine whether he committed the crimes in the June 2018 shooting at the Capital Gazette.

FILE - This June 28, 2018, file photo provided by the Anne Arundel Police shows Jarrod Ramos in Annapolis, Md. Ramos who is charged with five counts of first-degree murder in a shooting at a newspaper has pled not guilty and not criminally responsible.

Ramos has pleaded not guilty and not criminally responsible, which is Maryland’s version of an insanity defense. If he is found guilty in the first phase of the trial, a second phase will be held for jurors to decide whether he is not criminally responsible due to his mental health.

Defense attorneys had asked the judge whether they could refer to his not criminally responsible plea in opening statements of the first phase of the trial, or if they would be able to make a second opening statement, if their client is found guilty and the second phase is held.

James Tuomey, an assistant state’s attorney, argued against allowing the defense to reference their client’s mental health or his plea in opening statements in the trial’s first phase. He said that would “put an issue” in the minds of jurors before they face it.

Ripken said she would explain the bifurcated process of holding the trial in two phases to jurors. She also said she would allow a second opening statement if the trial goes to a second phase.

In this June 29, 2018, file photo, crime scene tape surrounds a building housing The Capital Gazette newspaper's offices, in Annapolis, Md.

Separately, the judge ruled to deny a request by defense attorneys to sanction prosecutors for failing to properly share evidence with them before the trial of Jarrod Ramos. Ripken said she was satisfied prosecutors have exercised due diligence.

Ripken also asked attorneys on both sides to review model questions for prospective jurors from the Maryland State Bar Association to prepare for jury selection, which is set for Oct. 30. The trial is scheduled to start Nov. 4.

To help narrow the jury pool in the high-profile case, the judge had 322 potential jurors fill out a questionnaire at the courthouse last month. It contained some basic questions intended to determine if any of them would not be qualified to serve on the jury.

Ramos, 39, had a long history of harassing the Capital Gazette’s staff in connection with a defamation suit he filed against the newspaper in 2012, authorities have said. The suit was thrown out.

Ramos was arrested hiding under a desk at the newspaper after the shooting, police said. He has been charged with killing John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen.