Defense counsel attempted to paint a picture of the gunman who murdered Capital Gazette staffers Gerald Fischman, Robert Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters as an obsessed, socially awkward loner Thursday.
Their main witness: Jarrod Ramos’ younger sister, Michelle Jeans.
Her last contact with her brother, now an admitted murderer, was around the end of 2014. She started crying as soon as she sat in the witness box.
“Is today the first time you’ve seen him in person?” Public Defender Elizabeth Palan asked.
“Yes,” Jeans tearfully responded.
Jeans, who lives in Hanover, contacted the Anne Arundel County Police Department after she saw a report of the shooting on the news.
“I was calling [the police] because I believed Jarrod was involved in the shooting,” she testified Thursday.
Ramos’ sister also laid out her brother’s fraught history with the newspaper, beginning with a 2011 column that former staffer Eric Hartley wrote entitled “Jarrod wants to be your friend,” which detailed his guilty plea in a harassment lawsuit filed by a former classmate.
After that former classmate tried to cut off connections with Ramos, Ramos began monitoring her Facebook account. Jeans said that Ramos took a screenshot of a post the classmate made and sent it to her employer.
Jeans said she didn’t hear about this classmate until her brother told her he had been sued.
“When people upset him, he will just disown them or remove them from his life,” she testified Thursday. “I didn’t tell him how bad I thought it was,” and he justified how he handled the situation with his old classmate by comparing it to seeing a drunk person get behind the wheel of a car.
“He feels very strongly about the right thing — that people do the right thing,” said Jeans.
The column Hartley wrote led Ramos to file a series of lawsuits and several appeals: against his classmate, Hartley, the Capital Gazette and its former publisher.
What had most upset Ramos about Hartley’s column was one line:
“His messages rambled… saying ‘Expletive you, leave me alone’ though she hadn’t written him in months.”
“He said that the inclusion of that line, in particular … made him look crazy and that anyone who googled his name and saw the article would think he’s crazy,” said Jeans.
Four minutes after he blasted through the newspaper suite’s glass doors, Ramos tweeted from a Capital Gazette employee’s computer: “F— you, leave me alone @judgemoylanfrnd,” tagging a dummy account created in the name of a judge who denied one of his legal appeals.
But while Ramos was so concerned about seeming outwardly “crazy,” Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess (D) pushed back, noting what Jeans said about Ramos in her interview with police on the day of the shooting.
“I, as a sister, would say: ‘Jarrod, this is really f—ed up,’” Leitess read from Jeans’ statement regarding his Twitter account. Jeans told officers that Ramos wanted people at the Capital Gazette to think he’s crazy.
“He said it to you and you quoted it to the police,” Leitess said to Jeans. “It says it right there.”
“It does say it right there,” she responded.
The defense questioned her about her brother’s social life growing up, notably in high school.
“I don’t really remember him having a social life during that period at all,” Jeans said.
Leitess also combatted this notion, asking her about a series of friends Ramos had in elementary and middle school, recreational sport and chess competitions he participated in as a teen, and his hike on the Appalachian Trail as a young adult, where he befriended a series of strangers, one of whom nicknamed him “Gizmo.”
“He could be caring and loving, couldn’t he?” Leitess asked Jeans regarding her brother’s relationship with herself, their grandparents and their parents when they were little.
“Yes,” she said of every example.
Leitess’ cross-examination of Jeans was cut short after phones in the courtroom gallery began screeching in anticipation of a tornado warning.
She is expected to be the first witness during Friday’s proceedings.