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Capital Gazette shooter was obsessed, sister says


When Jarrod Ramoss younger sister took the stand this week to testify in his sanity trial, she said it was the first time she had seen her brother in person in seven years.

Of their immediate family, Michelle Jeans said Ramos had kept in touch with her the longest, sharing updates on his poker-playing hobby, sending postcards from his nine-month hike on the Appalachian Trail and sometimes joining her at concerts or movies. But Jeans said Ramos also sent her emails about the harassment charges he faced from a high school classmate. And he ranted for hours by phone, Jeans testified, about his fixation with the legal fight against the woman's supporters, including the author of a column in the Capital newspaper.

That behavior concerned her, she said, but she handled her criticism cautiously.

"When people upset him, he will disown them or remove them from his life," Jeans said. "I didn't want to upset him."

But sometime in the mid-2010s, he cut her off, too - just as he'd done to their mother, father and grandfather. Then on June 28, 2018, she saw the news: A mass shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md.

Jeans's testimony this week, which spanned two days, focused on her recollection of her brother's life and behaviors leading up to the day he walked into that Annapolis newsroom with a shotgun and killed five people. A defense expert witness - neurologist Thomas Hyde - later tied together Jeans's observations and his own clinical assessment to explain how he diagnosed Ramos with autism and how that impacted his behavior.

Together, their testimonies painted the picture of a man who never had close friendships or romantic relationships, who preferred to be alone from a young age and who harbored delusions about people he perceived as out to get him.

On cross examination, prosecutors questioned the integrity of Jeans's testimony and the validity of Hyde's analysis, which was based on three hours of interviews with Ramos and a one-hour interview with his sister.

Prosecutors insinuated, because of Ramos' card-playing hobby, that he was putting on a "poker face."

Though Ramos, 41, has already pleaded guilty to 23 counts in the mass shooting, a jury will now determine whether he is criminally responsible for the attack - or whether, because of a mental disorder, he lacked the ability to understand the criminality of his behavior or conform it to the requirements of the law at the time of the shooting.

His sanity trial began Tuesday and is scheduled to continue through mid-July.

During her testimony, Jeans described a fairly normal childhood in Maryland that was punctuated by a few formative years living on a military base in England, their parents' separation and the family's eventual estrangement from her brother, who she said became reclusive and obsessive in the years after the harassment case.

Ramos told his sister all about it, she said, explaining that he had emailed and exchanged Facebook messages with a woman he attended high school with but did not know. When she stopped responding to him after growing uncomfortable, Jeans testified, he messaged her abusive language, took screenshots of Facebook posts that included her and alcohol, and sent them to her boss - with the intent of getting her fired.

The woman eventually reported his behavior to authorities, and he pleaded guilty to harassment.

Then in 2011, a journalist at the Capital wrote a column titled: "Jarrod wants to be your friend."

The column said that Ramos's messages to the woman included "'[expletive] you, leave me alone' though she hadn't written him in months."

That, Jeans said, was her brother's breaking point. He insisted he never said that, and became fixated, she said, on the idea that this factual inaccuracy made him sound "crazy."

This began his years-long court battle against the journalist who wrote the column, the Capital Gazette news organization and the Maryland judiciary.

He exhausted his appeals options and created burner Twitter accounts to share information about the litigation claiming he had been defamed.

By then, the only family member he was communicating with was Jeans, she said. But most of their conversations were consumed by his court battle.

"That was just his life," she told the jury. "One hundred percent of the time was the court stuff."

Before he stopped speaking to her, too, Jeans said she tried to have conversations with her brother about the harassing behavior.

On the stand, Jeans said life always seemed harder for her brother and got emotional speaking about how she wanted to help him.

But during cross-examination, prosecutors homed in on the interview Jeans did with police the day of the shooting in 2018, when she called authorities to say she believed her brother was the shooter. She told police about his tweets.

"He would post stuff that made him look like a psycho," she said. ". . . And he would say, that's what I want them to feel, for this lawsuit, I want them to think that I'm crazy."

Jeans also said she tried to talk to her brother about his physical appearance in court - where he acted as his own attorney but dressed in hiking pants, hiking boots and outdoor button-up shirts.

Jeans testified that she offered to buy him a suit, but he turned her down, saying his wardrobe was a reflection of who he was and that if he dressed up, any jury would know it wasn't authentic.

When he took to the stand Friday afternoon, Hyde - one of the defense's expert witnesses and the chief medical officer at Lieber Institute for Brain Development - listed some of the same information Jeans testified to as supporting evidence for the autism diagnosis he gave Ramos.

The man, Hyde said, exhibited little "social emotional reciprocity," that he had fixations throughout his life and that he wore the same outfit to grade school every day, no matter the weather - all patterns of behavior in people with autism.

But Ramos's case, Hyde said, is "mild to moderate" and "clearly not severe."

The trial will resume next week, where the defense will continue to present its case before Anne Arundel County State's Attorney, Anne Colt Leitess, calls her own expert witnesses. She is expected to argue that, at the time of the shooting, Ramos was not impaired to the point that he could not distinguish right from wrong.

Published : July 03, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Katie Mettler, Emily Davies