Capital Gazette Gunman Sentenced to Five Life Terms Without Parole in Newsroom Shooting


ANNAPOLIS, Md. — An Anne Arundel County judge sentenced the man who killed five Capital Gazette employees to the maximum penalty allowable under law Tuesday, bringing an end to the court case stemming from the mass shooting that shocked Annapolis and ensuring the gunman spends the rest of his life in prison.

Survivors of the June 28, 2018, newsroom attack, their family members and the relatives of the people who died that day — Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters — offered wrenching accounts of how the shooting altered their lives, leaving them to live with enduring trauma, grief and palpable voids.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Wachs took it all into consideration. He eulogized each victim and lauded the news organization’s courage for publishing an edition of the paper the next day. He described Jarrod Ramos, 41, as a remorseless, cold-blooded killer and then handed down the sentence: six terms of life in prison, five without the possibility of parole, plus 345 years — all to be served consecutively.

“The impact of this case is simply immense,” Wachs said. “To say the defendant showed a callous and cruel disregard for the sanctity of human life is simply an understatement.”

Before the sentence was announced, State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess urged Wachs to make clear Ramos, 41, would spend the rest of his life in prison. She described him as a narcissist and lifelong bully who murdered innocent people because he couldn’t handle the perceived slight to his ego provided by an almost decade-old newspaper column about him in The Capital, which is now part of Baltimore Sun Media.

“The judge was crystal clear that Jarrod Ramos should never be allowed to walk out of prison ever,” Leitess said outside the courthouse.

She praised the victims who spoke up Tuesday to ensure the court record documented their perseverance and honored the memories of those who died.

“That’s incredible bravery, the bravery to stand up in front of somebody who killed their loved ones, or tried to kill them, and say what they said today in court is just amazing to me, as was the bravery of the first responders in this case,” Leitess said.

The poignant victim impact statements touched on how family members learned of their loved one’s passing or what they remembered from that day. Some recounted their last text exchanges. Others talked about how they wished their late loved one was there for the next milestone: to become a grandparent or to see their child find love, to write another romantic poem or to see them graduate college.

Judy Hiaasen, Rob Hiaasen’s older sister, said she struggled to find the strength to speak in court, a few feet from the man who murdered her “baby brother.” But she thought about what he endured in his final moments and tapped into her desire to tell her brother’s story.

She said Rob Hiaasen’s gift for storytelling extended beyond newspaper columns, as he was the “curator of obscure family memories.” Some of those tales died with the family’s goofball, whom she described as a doting husband, father, brother and uncle. It’s a loss that’s impossible to move on from.

“My little brother was slaughtered and the impact of that loss is indescribably unique and never ending,” Judy Hiaasen said.

Oz San Felice, the mother of former Capital Gazette reporter Selene San Felice, who survived the shooting, told Wachs about the emotional scars her family has kept from that day, which she said “changed all our lives forever.”

“The texts Selene sent us while she cowered for her life under a desk are branded in our memories,” Oz San Felice said. “So much has changed since that fateful day. Medications and therapy have become part of our lives. Restful sleep is rare, and nightmares are our new normal. I pray that no parent has to ever go through what we have been through.”

Andrea Chamblee, McNamara’s widow, described her husband’s dedication to his reporting career and, above that, his devotion to her.

She referenced testimony at Ramos’ trial in which an FBI psychiatrist said Ramos’ desire for notoriety led him to leave “legacy tokens,” like letters he mailed to four people the morning of the shooting. She said McNamara was the one who left a noteworthy legacy, one evidenced by his book about basketball, seats dedicated to him at his alma mater, the University of Maryland, and the hundreds who attended his funeral.

“The real victim impact is that he’s gone when he deserved to be here. He deserved to enjoy seeing his recognition, to enjoy this time in his life, and I was so hoping to see it and experience it with him, and pay him back for all the kindnesses that he gave to me,” Chamblee said. “Now I never will.”

Ramos pleaded guilty in October 2019 to the entire indictment: five counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, six counts of first-degree assault and 11 counts of using a firearm in a felony crime of violence. However, he maintained that he was not criminally responsible and sought an indefinite commitment to a state psychiatric hospital rather than being sent to prison.

However, in July, a jury found Ramos was criminally responsible after a 12-day trial to determine whether he was sane at the time of the crime. The trial featured eight mental health experts and chilling testimony and footage from the shooting and the immediate aftermath. It re-traumatized victims and took a toll on the jurors, too, prompting two members of the panel to attend sentencing to achieve some semblance of closure.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Wachs cited a letter Ramos wrote him asking for the hearing to be expedited, in which Ramos “described the sanity element of his trial as an ‘interesting defense,’ as if it was all a game to him.”

Wachs also recounted Ramos’ telling a state psychiatrist that he wanted to spend the rest of his life in a prison cell and, if he were ever released, he would kill again to be put back behind bars.

“I want to be clear the sentence I’m about to impose has nothing to do with his wishes,” Wachs continued. “It has to do with what he deserves and has earned.”

Ramos displayed no emotion Tuesday or during his trial. While victims and family members stood up to tell their stories, Ramos turned his chair at the end of the defense table to watch.

Selene San Felice was among survivors and victims who looked Ramos in the eye during their statements. She told him his plan didn’t work and that she wasn’t intimidated by his saying he wished to have killed her.

At trial, defense attorneys and experts described Ramos as deeply troubled and mentally ill.

They said he had no friends and lived most of his life with his cat in a one-bedroom apartment in Laurel, ruminating over a 2011 Capital Gazette column about his harassment conviction. He filed a dizzying array of lawsuits trying to rectify his gripe with the newspaper, the woman he tormented and attorneys for both. When his legal recourse ran out, he began planning the attack.

The massacre was meticulously plotted and executed. Ramos deployed barricades under doors to trap employees, maneuvered about the newsroom working the pump on the shotgun and concealed himself under a desk after calling 911 to surrender. While experts disputed his diagnoses at trial, nobody — not even prosecutors — doubted Ramos had psychological problems.

Katy O’Donnell, one of Ramos’ public defenders, urged Wachs to consider Ramos’ mental conditions, including disorders that court-appointed psychiatrist Sameer Patel diagnosed him with. She did not explicitly ask for a more lenient sentence.

“Your honor, mental illness is real,” O’Donnell said. “And Mr. Ramos’ delusional thinking is at the core of this offense and at the core of this incredible pain and suffering to every single individual in this room.”

Ramos declined an opportunity to address the court. After Wachs explained his rights to appeal and to request a sentence reconsideration, sheriff’s deputies whisked Ramos out of the courtroom and one step closer to life in a state prison. Leitess said it’s still unclear where Ramos will serve his time.

Filled with victims, current and former Capital Gazette staffers and the jurors, the audience seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Outside the courthouse, Winters’ daughter Montana Winters Geimer said the sentence provided some comfort.

“It brings us solace that the person who took her from us will never breathe freedom again.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.