Jury Selection Begins In Capital Gazette Shooter's Trial
Jury selection began yesterday in the trial to determine the sanity of the shooter in the Capital Gazette massacre in Annapolis three years ago this month. WYPR’s Joel McCord was in the courtroom and has this update.
NATHAN: Joel Can you give us some quick background? Set it up for us.
The shooter, identified as Jarrod Ramos, 41, of Laurel, pleaded guilty to 23 counts, including five of first-degree murder, in the shooting in The Capital’s newsroom on June 28, 2018, but added he was not criminally responsible at the time, Maryland’s version of the insanity defense. And that’s what the jury will be asked to decide, his sanity at the time.
The trial is being held in one of the larger courtrooms in Annapolis where jurors, or rather members of the jury panel are appropriately socially distanced. Some are wearing masks, some not.
There are four seats in that courtroom reserved for press, one for a reporter from the Capital or the Sun, one for a courtroom artist and two rotating among other reporters. The rest of the press is watching on a closed circuit hook up in the historic courtroom on the second floor of the building.
Ramos can be seen on that feed at the defense table wearing what appears to be a dark gray prison jumpsuit and a mask.
NATHAN: Now, we’ve heard there’s a large jury pool for this trial. Can you tell us about that?
They started with a pool of 300 potential jurors, winnowed down to about 250 or so through a questionnaire Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Michael Wachs, who is presiding in this case, sent out earlier.
Now, they’re bringing them in in groups of 50 at a time and Judge Wachs asks an initial set of 40 questions—do any of you know the defendant, know the lawyers involved, know any of the others in the jury panel? Do you or any of your family members know anyone who may be mentioned in the trial? And he followed that with a list of the victims, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara and Rob Hiaasen; then the police who investigated the case, detention center employees and so on. Can you set feelings about insanity plea aside and be fair and impartial? That sort of thing.
The key questions are aimed at teasing out a potential juror’s feelings about mental illness, the insanity defense and the media.
The judge then had follow-up questions for some members of the panel, depending on their answers to the first set of questions, after which the lawyers could challenge a potential juror based on those answers.
NATHAN: Did the lawyers challenge any of them?
The prosecution didn’t but Ramos’ lawyers did. There was one woman who said he’s already pleaded guilty, he’s guilty. Judge Wachs excused her. The defense lawyers challenged one potential juror who said he used to work in the athletic department at the Severn school and knew one of the victims, John McNamara, who was a sportswriter at the Capital, as well as other reporters. A few said they thought the insanity plea was merely an excuse, a way to get off. Others knew reporters at the Capital because of their activity in the community.
There was one man who said he was leaving on the Fourth of July for Oregon to help his daughter, who just graduated from college, move to California for a job.
Others said they had work issues, they couldn’t get time off or they were needed at their jobs. And one woman was so overwrought she couldn’t answer the questions. Judge Wachs excused her.
NATHAN: So, what’s next?
Well, the judge has scheduled three days for jury selection. By the end of the first day, he said he had found 48 potential jurors who were qualified and that he wants at least 80 before they begin working their way down to the 12, plus six alternates, who will be asked to determine Ramos’ sanity. Judge Wachs has said the main trial will begin Tuesday and that it most likely will go on for 10 days.
NATHAN: Okay, Joel. Thank you.