Maryland newspaper gunman gets more than 5 life prison terms
Police secure the scene of a shooting at an office building housing The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md., Thursday, June 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Brian Witte, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, September 28, 2021 1:13PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 28, 2021 8:17PM EDT
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - A man who killed five people at a newspaper in Maryland was sentenced on Tuesday to more than five life sentences without the possibility of parole - with 345 additional years added on to ensure he is never released from prison.
Anne Arundel County Judge Michael Wachs ordered the sentence for Jarrod Ramos, whom a jury previously found criminally responsible for killing Wendi Winters, John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen and Rebecca Smith with a shotgun at the Capital Gazette's office in June 2018.
The assault was one of the worst attacks on journalists in U.S. history.
Before announcing the sentence, the judge heard survivors and family members of the slain describe the pain and loss they have experienced. He emphasized the courage of family members who spoke.
“The defendant did not get the final say,” Wachs said. “The First Amendment and the community got the final say.”
Wachs also pointed out that Ramos showed no remorse for the crimes and had said he would kill more if he were ever released. He described Ramos' actions as a “cold-blooded, calculated attack on the innocent employees of a small-town newspaper.”
“The impact of this case is just simply immense,” Wachs said. “To say that the defendant exhibited a callous and complete disregard for the sanctity of human life is simply a huge understatement.”
Survivors described the shooting as an attack on journalism. Selene San Felice, a former reporter at the paper, said that while Ramos killed five of her colleagues, he could not stop the newspaper.
“Remember this: You cannot kill the truth,” San Felice said.
Ramos had pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible to all 23 counts against him in 2019, using Maryland's version of an insanity defense. The case was delayed several times before and during the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to the five life sentences without possibility of parole, Wachs ordered another life sentence for the attempted murder of photographer Paul Gillespie, who had said that Ramos narrowly missed him with a shotgun blast as he ran out of the newsroom. The judge also sentenced Ramos to 345 years in prison on the other charges.
“The judge was crystal clear that Jarrod Ramos should never be allowed to walk out of prison - ever,” said Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess.
Family members of the slain cried in court as they described the anguish they have endured and the impact the attack had on the community of Maryland's state capital.
“We lost the storyteller of our family, and as a community we lost the storyteller for everyone that is an Annapolitan,” said Montana Winters Geimer, Winters' daughter.
San Felice, who survived by hiding under a desk during the attack, told journalists outside the courthouse that it felt good to see authorities “take him away forever.”
“It felt really good to be able to look the judge in the eye and also to be able to look the shooter in the eye,” San Felice said. “It meant a lot to me to be able to tell him to his face that he failed.”
Ramos, who sat in court wearing a black mask, declined to make a statement in court when asked by his attorney, Katy O'Donnell.
After a 12-day trial in July, a jury took less than two hours to reject arguments from Ramos' attorneys that he could not understand the criminality of his actions.
Prosecutors contended Ramos, 41, acted out of revenge against the newspaper after it published a story about his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of harassing a former high school classmate in 2011. Prosecutors said his long, meticulous planning for the attack - which included preparations for his arrest and long incarceration - proved he understood the criminality of his actions.
Prosecutors also emphasized how Ramos called 911 from the newsroom after the shooting, identified himself as the gunman and said he surrendered - evidence he clearly understood the criminality of his actions.