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Newspaper shooting case focuses on records on psychologist

March 5, 2020 GMT
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FILE - This June 28, 2018, file photo provided by the Anne Arundel Police shows Jarrod Ramos in Annapolis, Md. Lawyers in the case of Ramos, who says he isn't criminally responsible for killing five people at a Maryland newspaper are scheduled to argue about documents relating to a psychologist's visit to a detention center where the shooter has been held. A pretrial hearing is set for Thursday, March 5, 2020, in the case against Ramos, who has pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible to the murders due to his mental health. (Anne Arundel Police via AP, File)
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FILE - This June 28, 2018, file photo provided by the Anne Arundel Police shows Jarrod Ramos in Annapolis, Md. Lawyers in the case of Ramos, who says he isn't criminally responsible for killing five people at a Maryland newspaper are scheduled to argue about documents relating to a psychologist's visit to a detention center where the shooter has been held. A pretrial hearing is set for Thursday, March 5, 2020, in the case against Ramos, who has pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible to the murders due to his mental health. (Anne Arundel Police via AP, File)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Documents relating to a forensic psychologist’s discussions with detention center employees about the behavior of a man who killed five people at a Maryland newspaper were released to defense attorneys Thursday on a judge’s order, as lawyers prepare for a determination on whether he was criminally responsible because of his mental health.

However, Judge Laura Ripken declined a defense attorney’s request to require prosecutors to provide a written record of verbal communications relating to the psychologist they retained to ask questions about Jarrod Ramos’ behavior at the facility where he has been confined.

The pretrial hearing marked the latest in long-running wrangling between attorneys over discovery, the legal process in which information about evidence is exchanged between the defense and the prosecution.

The case, which includes videotaped evidence of Ramos shooting his way through the Capital Gazette as victims run for their lives, will be nearly two years old when the second phase of the trial is held in June to determine whether he is criminally responsible.

The case has three groups of mental health experts.

Dr. Sameer Patel, a psychiatrist with the state health department, has conducted a mental health evaluation of Ramos. The evaluation has not been made public, but Ripken said in court in October that Patel found Ramos to be legally sane.

Defense attorneys have retained their own mental health experts, and they are arguing Ramos should not be held criminally responsible because of mental illness.

Prosecutors also retained a forensic psychologist, Dr. Gregory Saathoff, but the judge denied their request to conduct a separate evaluation of Ramos. However, the judge ruled the state could prepare its own case in various ways, including challenging the defense experts’ findings and reports.

As a result, Saathoff interviewed 35 employees at the detention center, according to Anne Colt Leitess, the state’s attorney prosecuting the case. Leitess also said in court Thursday that Saathoff looked through a window into Ramos’ cell to observe him.

Elizabeth Palan, an attorney for Ramos, argued that the records were relevant in case Saathoff testifies during the second phase of the trial. But Leitess argued that defense attorneys were only trying to learn more about prosecutors’ legal strategy, and she asked the judge to decline the request.

Ramos pleaded guilty in October to all 23 counts against him for killing John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen and Rebecca Smith in the 2018 newsroom rampage at the Capital Gazette.

Ramos, 40, had a well-documented history of harassing the Capital Gazette’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 staff at the newspaper in profanity-laced tweets.

If Ramos were found not criminally responsible, he would be committed to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital instead of prison.