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Defense Calls Psychiatrist In Capital Gazette Shooter Trial

The Anne Arundel County Courthouse
Joel McCord
The Anne Arundel County Courthouse

A psychiatrist with a national reputation testified Wednesday that the Capital Gazette shooter didn’t have the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct when he killed five people in June 2018.

Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, who has examined serial killers Arthur Shawcross, and Ted Bundy among others, told the jury Jarrod Ramos was not able to appreciate the criminality of what he was doing “as a result of his delusional disorder.”

Ramos has pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible in the shooting deaths of John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, Rebecca Smith and Rob Hiaasen in the Capital newsroom. It was the worst mass shooting of journalists in US history.

Lewis said Ramos, 41, has “a combination of mental problems that cause this kind of violence.”

“He is delusional, and his delusional beliefs have a great deal to do with his criminal behavior,” she testified. “He also has obsessive compulsive disorder and he harbors obsessions. Or he has for the past decade or so that he has not been able to get rid of or wanted to.”

All of that, she said, meant Ramos “couldn’t appreciate the magnitude of the sadness” of the families of the victims.

It was the first time in more than a week of testimony that any of the mental health professionals who testified for the defense said directly that Ramos was unable to understand what he had done.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Catherine Yeager, a clinical psychologist who has worked with Lewis on the serial killer cases, told the jury that Ramos has delusional disorder, “persecutory type,” which means he feels he’s being cheated.

Yeager said he’s often resentful and angry and may resort to violence against those he feels are persecuting him.

Yeager said Ramos was in therapy from 2010 to 2013 and that his feelings of persecution increased markedly after a 2011 report in the Capital on his conviction for harassing a former high school classmate online.

She said the therapist wrote that Ramos could not stop talking about how he was maligned and how he was being persecuted by the newspaper and the courts.

But under cross examination by Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess, Yeager conceded that most of her work has been with children and the elderly and that she couldn’t remember the last time she testified in a trial.

Leitess pointed to a report from Dr. Sameer Patel, a state psychiatrist, who said Ramos told him he wanted to make the trial “a farce,” comparing that with Yeager’s report that said Ramos told her he was concerned with due process.

And Leitess hammered away at the quality of Yeager’s examination and diagnosis of Ramos.

“Did you speak to any of the psychiatrists at the detention center about Mr. Ramos,” Leitess asked.

“I did not,” Yeager replied.

“Did you speak with any of the correctional officers,” Leitess asked.

“I did not,” Yeager replied.

“Did you speak to any of the nurses at the detention center,” Leitess asked.

“I only looked at records," Yeager answered.

Dr. Lewis is expected to return to the stand Thursday to continue her testimony, but it’s not clear how much longer it will take before the defense rests its case.

At that point, Leitess will deliver her opening argument--she opted to put that off until she begins her case. She’s expected to call Dr. Patel as well asDr. Gregory Saathoff, a psychiatric consultant for the FBI hired by the state.

The jury must decide Ramos’ criminal responsibility, based on a preponderance of the evidence. The decision will determine whether Ramos could potentially spend the rest of his life in prison or be sent to a state psychiatric facility until doctors there decide he’s no longer a threat to society.

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.