Insanity plea in Capital Gazette murders: The wonders of modern psychiatry

Insanity plea in Capital Gazette murders: The wonders of modern psychiatry

A plaque on the wall of the new Annapolis memorial to five slain journalists reproduces the front page of the newspaper the next day. MarylandReporter.com photo

By Richard E. Vatz 

Jarrod Ramos is on trial to determine if his killing of five innocent journalists at The Capital Gazette was due to his being “not criminally responsible” in the terms of Maryland’s insanity statute.

To reasonable sentient people, the slaying of Gerald Fischman (editorial page editor), Rob Hiaasen (assistant editor and columnist), John McNamara (sports reporter), Rebecca Smith (sales assistant) and Wendi Winters (special publication editor) and the non-fatal attacks on others present were a wholly premeditated act.

Ramos, after initially pleading not guilty, reversed course and is not contesting that he perpetrated the slaughter, probably to keep from his insanity jury the revulsion they would feel from hearing the shocking details of the butchery, although they did see selected videos.  The details include the wanton shootings and bodily destruction as well as his carefully premeditated act, replete with smoke grenades, a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and the fact that he contrived to make escape impossible by barricading the back exit of the Capital Gazette office.

The massacre was preceded by defendant Ramos’ having threatened Capital Gazette journalists with lawsuits and  years of online threats pursuant to their writing about his  harassing a high school classmate. https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/crime/bs-md-ramos-search-20180628-story.html

The issue for the jury is whether Ramos could have controlled his actions and whether he understood their criminality.

After the shooting, Ramos called 911 and professed several times that he was the shooter and that he was finished, and he laid down.  He said to the 911 responders, “This is your shooter. The shooting is over. I surrender.”  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/jarrod-ramos-admits-guilt-in-capital-gazette-shooting-that-killed-5/2019/10/28/39bcd226-f990-11e9-ac8c-8eced29ca6ef_story.html  This is not the behavior of an individual who was confused about the illegality or wrongness of his murderous acts or one who was compelled beyond his control to commit them.

Incongruously, the defense team conceded that Ramos’ intentions that day were “willful, deliberate and premeditated” and that “it was methodically planned.”  They intended to prove that Ramos did not understand the criminality of his fatal actions, nor could he control himself, again, the criteria for insanity in Maryland. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/capital-gazette-shooting-opening-statements/2021/06/29/1e1ab0c8-d8e7-11eb-9bbb-37c30dcf9363_story.html

Defense offers variety of diagnoses

In Ramos’ trial, the defense, despite its unexpected concessions, unsurprisingly threw out a variety of diagnoses for consideration, as psychiatry is disputed by many as an authentic medical enterprise.  One neurologist, a “behavioral neurologist” in the case, testified that Ramos was “socially isolated” and that he was verbose.  https://wtop.com/blog/2021/07/latest-updates-capital-gazette-newspaper-shooter-jarrod-ramos-on-trial/ In addition he diagnosed Ramos as having autism spectrum disorder along with the attendant seeming of normalcy to most people.

https://www.capitalgazette.com/news/crime/ac-cn-capital-gazette-shooting-trial-day-4-20210702-nrwauseb35fppnsmwtfkqfrmeu-story.html

This is the proverbial throwing of points at a wall, hoping one will be sufficiently mystifying to the jury to stick and allow the possibility of a “not criminally responsible” verdict.

Further, the neurologist claimed that Ramos believed falsely that people were plotting against him, conclusions gleaned from a few hours with Ramos  and his sister’s description of him.

General statistics on the insanity plea reveal that it is pleaded in about in about 1% of felony cases, and it is successful in about one fourth of such pleadings   https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/crime/trial/faqs.html   These stats are somewhat misleading, however, since psychiatric mitigation of sentencing happens frequently.

Perhaps for those who are still credulous when an obviously manufactured insanity plea is cobbled together to get the accused into psychiatric treatment, only to be released when psychiatrists convince a judge that he is fine, just look at one quote of the accused: regarding his threatening tweets, he told his sister ‘I want them to think that I’m crazy.’”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/capital-gazette-shooters-sister-testifies-that-her-brother-was-obsessed-with-his-court-battle-against-the-newspaper/2021/07/02/f332b7ec-db4e-11eb-9bbb-37c30dcf9363_story.html

If you want to find an individual who personifies evil agency, you need go no further than Jarrod Ramos.

The only question is whether neurologists’ testifying on non-pathological findings can mystify a jury sufficiently to acquire cushy psychiatric “treatment” in lieu of life-long incarceration.  The prosecution will argue that Ramos’ actions and utter clarity in wreaking revenge against those who he believed were making him look bad make him fully responsible for those acts.

About The Author

Richard E. Vatz Ph.D.

rvatz@towson.edu

Richard Vatz is Distinguished Professor at Towson University and has written extensively on rhetoric and psychiatry.  He is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion: the Agenda-Spin Model (LAD Custom Publishing, 2019) and the co-editor of Thomas S. Szasz: the Man and His Ideas (Transaction Publishers, 2017)

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