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Judge postpones insanity phase in newspaper shooter case

October 30, 2019 GMT
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In this artist court sketch, Jarrod Ramos stands and pleads guilty in Anne Arundel Circuit Court on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, in Annapolis, Md., in the slayings of five staffers at an Annapolis newspaper, and a jury is expected to hear testimony within weeks about whether he was not responsible by reason of insanity. (Hannah Gaskill/Capital News Service, University of Maryland, via AP)
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In this artist court sketch, Jarrod Ramos stands and pleads guilty in Anne Arundel Circuit Court on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, in Annapolis, Md., in the slayings of five staffers at an Annapolis newspaper, and a jury is expected to hear testimony within weeks about whether he was not responsible by reason of insanity. (Hannah Gaskill/Capital News Service, University of Maryland, via AP)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A judge on Wednesday postponed a jury trial to determine whether a man who pleaded guilty to killing five people at a Maryland newspaper was not criminally responsible because of mental illness.

Judge Michael Wachs made the ruling before jury selection was scheduled to begin in the second phase of the trial of Jarrod Ramos. Ramos pleaded guilty Monday to all 23 counts against him, including first-degree murder in the June 2018 shooting at the Capital Gazette.

The defense maintains that although he pleaded guilty, Ramos should not be held criminally responsible. The latter term is Maryland’s version of an insanity defense.

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It’s unclear when the trial will be rescheduled, though Wachs urged attorneys to do so “as soon as possible.” Still, it will likely be weeks before the case resumes.

Attorneys for Ramos asked for the postponement Wednesday morning, after presiding Judge Laura Ripken denied their requests to block the prosecution’s mental health experts from testifying and to limit testimony from doctors at the state health department. The defense contended they have not received adequate information about what the experts intend to tell the jury.

James Tuomey, an assistant state’s attorney, told Ripken it was “offensive” for the defense to suggest the prosecution hadn’t released that information in a timely way, and he suggested the defense has its own problems with timeliness.

William Davis, an attorney for Ramos, responded that the defense had just received information about the prosecutors’ experts late Tuesday night. Davis said defense attorneys have not received full disclosure on what expert witnesses for the prosecution may bring to the courtroom, putting them in “an unfair position.”

Anne Colt Leitess, the state’s attorney prosecuting the case, said a psychologist and a psychiatrist have reviewed evidence that the defense’s experts plan to bring in an effort to rebut the defense’s argument that Ramos should not be held criminally responsible due to his state of mind.

Leitess emphasized that prosecutors were only doing their due diligence to be prepared for the case. She urged the judge to delay the proceeding until Nov. 12, but Davis told him that was not enough time.

Wachs, who was serving as the designated judge to consider court delays, granted the defense’s postponement request. He said rules guiding how defense attorneys and prosecutors share information before trial are not adequate for a case as complex as this one.

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Three days of jury selection had been scheduled to begin Wednesday, with plans to begin the second phase of the trial concerning Ramos’ mental health sometime early next month.

During a pretrial hearing last week, Ripken said a report from the state health department concluded that Ramos is legally sane. But Ramos’ lawyers say experts on the defense team have reached a different conclusion.

Under Maryland law, a defendant has the burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he is not criminally responsible for his actions.

Separately, The Baltimore Sun and the Capital Gazette have asked Ripken to unseal a large amount of court records that have been sealed. The newspapers filed a motion Monday for a hearing to request unsealing the documents.

Ramos, 39, pleaded guilty Monday to killing John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen.

Ramos, of Laurel, Maryland, held a longtime grudge against the newspaper, which had written about Ramos pleading guilty to harassing a former high school classmate in 2011. Ramos unsuccessfully sued the writer and the newspaper’s publisher for defamation.