By Hannah Gaskill
The gunman in the Capital Gazette shooting trial pleaded guilty Monday to the murders of journalists Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, Robert Hiaasen and John McNamara, as well as advertising assistant Rebecca Smith.
“This day was always coming,” Capital Gazette Editor Rick Hutzell told Capital News Service Monday. “Justice is not about the dead, it’s about the living.”
Jarrod Ramos, 39, of Laurel, also pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder and numerous assault and firearms charges in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.
“Are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty of the crimes in the indictments?” Judge Laura Ripken asked Ramos.
“Yes, I am,” he said, standing, with both arms clasped behind his back.
As State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess read for about 30 minutes through all the facts of the case, employees of the paper, friends and family members of the victims cried, held each other and passed around tissues.
In the days preceding the shooting, Ramos rented a car, joined a chess organization and — on the day of the shooting — mailed four letters to subjects of past grievances. In one letter, he sent a target of his ire images and a video made earlier of the Capital Gazette’s offices and employees he planned to kill, Leitess said.
Video from the scene shows Ramos blocking side and rear doors to the building and the office space, shooting through glass doors into the newsroom, using a flashlight and laser sight, and firing toward employees, including the attempted murder of photographer Paul Gillespie, Leitess said.
Once the shooting stopped, police found ear plugs, shooting glasses and an ammunition belt inside a conference room, and a Timex watch and Mossberg shotgun near the shooter, Leitess said.
Ramos called 911 and announced the shooting was over and, 19 minutes after he had started the attack, was found hiding under an office desk, according to Leitess.
Ramos is still pleading not criminally responsible, which is akin to an insanity plea in the state of Maryland.
This comes after drawn-out court proceedings that have included many hearings since Ramos shot through the glass doors of the Capital Gazette offices on June 28, 2018.
Capital Gazette employees, family and friends of the victims — including most who survived the attack — were present.
“I’m happy because I feel like today brought some closure,” said Capital Gazette reporter Rachael Pacella, who suffered a concussion and a gash in her forehead before hiding among file cabinets during the shooting.
Along with Pacella and Gillespie, fellow journalists Selene San Felice, Phil Davis and intern Anthony Messenger and advertising employee Janel Cooley survived the attack.
“The trial was going to be agonizing for the families of friends we lost, to the staff of the Capital and to the city of Annapolis,” Joshua McKerrow told Capital News Service outside the courtroom Monday. McKerrow, a photojournalist for the Capital who was out of the newsroom at the time of the shooting, covered the aftermath.
Ripken read her ruling in court, finding Ramos guilty of all 23 charges. Ripken listed each charge aloud, reading the name of each victim at least twice over.
The Capital Gazette became the object of Ramos’ rage in 2011 after the publication of a column detailing his guilty plea to harassment charges in a case levied against him by a former high school classmate.
In records from the suit, a woman who had graduated from Arundel High School with Ramos in 1997 stated that he contacted her via email in 2009. While their initial interaction was friendly, it later took a turn. The woman wrote in court documents that he told her to kill herself, and had even gone as far as contacting her employer.
The Capital Gazette published the column about the conviction in July 2011. This prompted Ramos to take the newspaper to court, where he represented himself in a defamation lawsuit that was eventually dismissed.
Ramos also filed a suit in 2014 against his harassment victim, whom Capital News Service is not naming, and her attorney, Brennan McCarthy. It was similarly dismissed.
The paper, its staff members and McCarthy, among others, became frequent targets on a Twitter account in Ramos’ name, until it appeared to go dark in January 2016.
According to Public Defender Elizabeth Palan, the account tweeted an obscenity from inside the newsroom on the afternoon of the shooting.
The second portion of the trial — to determine criminal responsibility — is still set to proceed. Jurors are expected to begin convening Wednesday for the voir dire process of jury selection.