Capital Gazette gunman sentenced to 5 life terms without parole in newsroom shooting

Candles honoring Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiassen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters flicker as the sun sets during a candlelight vigil on June 29, 2018, at Annapolis Mall for the five Capital Gazette employees slain during a shooting spree in their newsroom. Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — An Anne Arundel County judge on Tuesday sentenced the man who killed five Capital Gazette employees to six terms of life in prison, five without the possibility of parole, plus 345 years — all to be served consecutively.

After hearing from those who survived the June 28, 2018, mass shooting in Annapolis and relatives of those who died — Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters — Circuit Judge Michael Wachs handed down the harshest punishment at his disposal. Wachs eulogized the victims before describing Jarrod Ramos as remorseless, cold blooded killer.

“The impact of this case is simply immense,” Wachs said before handing down the sentence. “To say the defendant showed a callous and cruel disregard for the sanctity of human life is simply an understatement.”

In July, a jury found Ramos, 41, was criminally responsible after a 12-day trial to determine whether he was sane at the time of the crime.

Ramos in October 2019 pleaded guilty to the entire indictment: five counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, six counts of first-degree assault and 11 counts of using a firearm in a felony crime of violence. However, he maintained that he was not criminally responsible and sought an indefinite commitment to a state psychiatric hospital rather than being sent to prison.

Wachs cited Ramos’ statements during sentencing, including when Ramos wrote a letter to the judge asking for the hearing to be expedited. Wachs said Ramos “described the sanity element of his trial as an ‘interesting defense,’ as if it was all a game to him.”

He also cited Ramos remarks to a Maryland Department of Health psychiatrist when he said that he wanted to spend the rest of his life in the isolation of a prison cell and that he would kill if he were ever released, just to be sent back behind bars.

“I want to be clear the sentence I’m about to impose has nothing to do with his wishes,” Wachs continued. “It has to do with what he deserves and has earned.”

The judge’s remarks followed poignant, emotional victim impact statements. In brief remarks, they told of the enduring trauma, grief and palpable void, as well as remembering those they lost in the mass shooting.

Oz San Felice, the mother of former Capital Gazette reporter Selene San Felice, who survived the shooting, told Wachs about the emotional scars her family has suffered from that day, which she said “changed all our lives forever.”

“The texts Selene sent us while she cowered for her life under a desk are branded in our memories,” Oz San Felice said. “So much has changed since that fateful day. Medications and therapy have become part of our lives. Restful sleep is rare, and nightmares are our new normal. I pray that no parent has to ever go through what we have been through.”

Judy Hiaasen, Rob Hiaasen’s older sister, said she struggled to muster the strength to speak in court, a few feet from the killer of her “baby brother.” Then, she thought about what he endured in his final moments.

She said Rob Hiaasen’s gift for telling stories extended beyond newspaper columns, as he was the “curator of obscure family memories,” some of which died with him. She described him as the family’s goofball and a doting husband, father, brother and uncle. There’s something about the way he died, she said, that makes his loss impossible to move on from.

“My little brother was slaughtered and the impact of that loss is indescribably unique and never ending,” Judy Hiaasen said.

Andrea Chamblee, McNamara’s widow, said they labeled many things in their life as “perfectly adequate” but that didn’t apply to the love of her life. She acknowledged his tenacity as a sports reporter but said more than his commitment to work, “he was devoted to me.”

She referenced testimony at Ramos’ trial in which an FBI psychiatrist said Ramos’ desire for notoriety led him to leave behind “legacy tokens,” like letters he mailed to four people the morning of the shooting. She said McNamara was the one who had a real noteworthy legacy, one evidenced by his book about basketball, seats dedicated to him at his alma mater, the University of Maryland, and the hundreds who attended his funeral.

“The real victim impact is that he’s gone when he deserved to be here. He deserved to enjoy seeing his recognition, to enjoy this time in his life, and I was so hoping to see it and experience it with him, and pay him back for all the kindnesses that he gave to me,” she said. “Now I never will.”

While victims and family members stood up to tell their stories, Ramos turned his chair at the end of the defense table to watch. Like during his trial, he displayed no emotion.

At trial, defense attorneys and experts they hired described Ramos as having no friends and living most of his life with his cat in a one-bedroom apartment in Laurel. There, he ruminated over a 2011 Capital Gazette column about his harassment conviction and filed a dizzying array of lawsuits trying to rectify his gripe with the newspaper, the woman he tormented and attorneys for both. When his legal recourse ran out, he began planning the attack.

He conducted extensive research, studied blueprints of the Annapolis building, disguised himself to do reconnaissance of the office suite more than a year before the shooting, stockpiled weapons and ammunition, and practiced loading and unloading the Mossberg shotgun he bought online and picked up at the Bass Pro Shops in Hanover.

On the day of the shooting, Ramos deployed barricades before opening fire. He meticulously maneuvered about the newsroom, working the pump on the shotgun, and concealed himself after calling 911 to say he surrendered and was no longer armed. After his capture, he said little in custody during almost eight hours of Anne Arundel police and FBI interrogation.

While other experts disputed diagnoses, nobody — not even prosecutors — doubted Ramos had psychological problems.

Katy O’Donnell, one of Ramos’ public defenders, urged Wachs to consider Ramos’ mental conditions, including those court-appointed psychiatrist Sameer Patel diagnosed him with. She did not explicitly ask for a more lenient sentence.

Your honor, mental illness is real,” O’Donnell said. “And Mr. Ramos’ delusional thinking is at the core of this offense and at the core of this incredible pain and suffering to every single individual in this room. We can’t simply deny that ... to pretend that is not what is at the basis of triggering this behavior is to close our eyes.”

Ramos declined an opportunity to address the court. After Wachs announced the punishment and explained Ramos’ rights to appeal and to ask for a sentence reconsideration, sheriff’s deputies whisked Ramos out of the courtroom and down to a holding cell.

Filled with victims, current and former Capital Gazette staffers and two jurors, the audience seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Outside the courthouse after the sentencing, Winters’ daughter Montana Winters Geimer said the sentence provided some solace.

“It brings us solace that the person who took her from us will never breathe freedom again,” she said.

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