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Trial For 'Capital Gazette' Shooting Has Begun

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The trial began today for the man who admitted killing five employees at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md., three years ago. Jared Ramos says he was insane at the time of the shootings. Reporter Dominique Maria Bonessi from member station WAMU is with us from the courthouse in Annapolis.

Thanks for joining us.

DOMINIQUE MARIA BONESSI, BYLINE: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So the defense lawyer for 41-year-old Jared Ramos needs to prove that he was not criminally responsible during the attack. Do you have a sense of how the team will try to do that?

BONESSI: Right. So the defense is trying to build a case that Ramos' mental health issues stemmed backed at least eight years before the shooting took place. They say in the years prior to the shooting, Ramos was terminated from his job, estranged from his divorced parents and younger sister and then never really had any meaningful relationships or romantic relationships with another person. When Ramos did try to form a relationship with a high school acquaintance via Facebook, she filed a stalking charge against him. A court found Ramos guilty of that stalking charge, and he was put on probation.

A reporter from the Capital Gazette wrote an article entitled "Jared Just Wants To Be Your Friend." Ramos filed a defamation suit, but the case was thrown out. And so to Ramos, that was the last blow. According to the defense, he believed that his reputation had been tarnished, and the world thought he was delusional. And he blamed the Gazette's reporting and the Maryland court system for that.

SHAPIRO: Was there ever an actual diagnosis of mental illness?

BONESSI: Yeah. In fact, doctors with the defense and prosecution say at some point in time, Ramos has shown signs of multiple mental health illnesses like delusional disorder. It's also known as paranoid disorder, in which a person doesn't know reality from what is imagined. It often manifests itself in an unshakable belief in things that are not true. The defense is trying to prove that he killed these Gazette employees because of the disorders.

SHAPIRO: OK, so that's where the defense is coming from. The prosecution is going to attempt to prove that he is criminally responsible and understood the consequences of what he was doing. How will they make that argument?

BONESSI: Yes. It's not clear yet what Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess is planning to do to build her case because she hasn't done her opening statements yet. She plans to do that once the defense has concluded their case. However, what we know from discovery and various hearings before the trial, it seems like the prosecution would try to look at motive and Ramos' attack being methodical, planned, calculated for at least two years prior.

SHAPIRO: And do you have a sense of the evidence that they're going to be presenting?

BONESSI: Right. Because the defense is showing that mental health disorders stemmed back years and the prosecution is trying to show that this was a planned, methodical attack, they're using the same evidence to argue two opposing views - one to say that he had a mental defect and the other to say he did not. And there's a lot of evidence to sift through - for example, a lifetime membership to the Chess Federation that he purchased just four days before the shooting that the defense says he could use to pass the time in jail, a greeting card and a CD sent to the newspaper reporter who previously wrote the story on Ramos. And the CD was full of photos from inside the newspaper offices and articles from the paper's editor-in-chief about when the paper's editorial board meetings would be taking place.

A motion was also sent to the Court of Appeals by Ramos to reopen the defamation case, which explicitly says that the Court of Appeals failed to do their job and that he intends to kill everyone at the newspaper - and finally, a note inside his 12-gauge shotgun quoting Terry Nichols, the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber.

SHAPIRO: That's Dominique Maria Bonessi from member station WAMU at the courthouse in Annapolis.

Thank you.

BONESSI: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.