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Selection of the jury in the trial of the gunman who shot five employees at the Gazette of the capital Annapolis, Md., newspaper on June 28, 2018, begins Wednesday.
Jarrod Ramos, 41, pleaded guilty – but not criminally responsible by reason of insanity – in the murders of John McNamara, Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith. The mass shooting was one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in modern American history.
“There’s a feeling you don’t want this to be the thing that changes your life,” Phil Davis, the newspaper’s former criminal justice reporter who now works at the Baltimore Sun, NPR said.
Davis was hiding under his desk for tweet live the shooting that day. Later, he was part of the Pulitzer Prize winning team which published an article the very next day.
“That’s kind of what prompted me to continue as a criminal justice reporter. Once I feel like I’m saying ‘no, we’re going to get back to exactly what we’re doing. We’re going to approach this as we would even if it wasn’t us and try to do it from the perspective of a local community newspaper, ”Davis said.
Bruce Shapiro, executive director of Columbia University’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, said what made this shooting resonate in newsrooms across the United States was “the idea of a room. editorial staff full of colleagues murdered simply for being journalists. It’s an identity based on attack. “
The attacks on journalists in the United States did not end there. During his tenure, President Donald Trump tweeted that the media was the enemy of the people. Associated Press journalists have been threatened and their equipment damaged by Trump supporters during the Capitol uprising on January 6. And last year, during protests in Minneapolis against the murder of George Floyd by police, the US Press Freedom Tracker reported at least 160 threats against journalists across the country in a week, mostly by police.
Shapiro says the trial is a reminder to the public of the risks and costs local journalists take on a daily basis.
“The reality is that local newsrooms across the country are covering extraordinarily difficult events affecting their own families, neighbors, children, schools, be it wildfires, mass shootings, COVID- 19, “Shapiro said.
The Capital Gazette trial has been repeatedly delayed due to COVID-19, turnover in the offices of the public defender and state attorney, and rounds of court hearings. Davis says he hopes the long-awaited trial brings closure.
“Certainly for the families of the victims themselves, I look forward to being at the other end of this trial,” he said. “And whatever the outcome, being able to hug them and support them just to give them some kind of closure.”
Today, less than a week before the third anniversary of the shooting, the judge called a pool of 300 people to determine the 12 who will sit as jurors. They will then determine Ramos’ sanity during the attack.
Steve Mercer, a former Maryland public defender, said the defense bears the burden of proving Ramos’ sanity. He said that in cases like these, the defense will look at motive and intent. One possible motive, says Mercer, is that of Ramos “long-simmering quarrel with the paper. “
Ramos sued the newspaper for libel in 2012 after reporters wrote about his guilty plea of stalking and 90 days in prison suspended. But this motive might not hold up.
“I think there’s a big gap between being sort of upset by a published story… and then going in and committing a mass shooting,” Mercer said.
Mercer adds that what poses a challenge to both the defense and the prosecution is Ramos’ conduct after the shooting. He was found by police under a desk at the scene of the shooting with a pump shotgun legally purchased a few years earlier.
“The defense can point it out and say it just shows a disconnect from reality and a lack of awareness of what was going on, ”Mercer said.
Circuit Court Judge Judge Michael Wachs will ultimately decide whether he ends up in jail or a state mental hospital.