ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Selene San Felice said she often questioned how or why she survived the shooting that left five others dead at a Maryland newspaper. Montana Winters Geimer described the grievous loss she and the community suffered when her mother, longtime local journalist Wendi Winters, was killed in the attack.
San Felice and Winters Geimer were among several survivors and relatives of victims of the June 2018 killings at the Capital Gazette newspaper who testified in court Tuesday before a judge sentenced the shooter to more than five life terms without the possibility of parole.
“We lost the storyteller of our family, and as a community we lost the storyteller for everyone that is an Annapolitan,” Winters Geimer said.
Judy Hiaasen spoke of how difficult it was to even talk about the loss of her younger brother, Rob Hiaasen, who was an editor and columnist at the paper. She described his ability to keep memories of their mother and father alive. Now, she said, “That story has been taken from me.”
“My little brother was slaughtered, and the impact of that loss is indescribable,” she said. “It is unique, and it is never-ending.”
Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Michael Wachs described shooter Jarrod Ramos' actions as a “cold-blooded, calculated attack on the innocent employees of a small-town newspaper.” Ramos used a shotgun to kill his victims.
“The impact of this case is just simply immense,” Wachs said. “To say that the defendant exhibited a callous and complete disregard for the sanctity of human life is simply a huge understatement.”
Wachs gave Ramos an additional 345 years to underscore the fact that he would never be released from prison. And he ordered another life sentence for the attempted murder of photographer Paul Gillespie, who had previously testified that Ramos barely missed him with a shotgun blast as he ran out of the newsroom.
While Gillespie said he didn’t believe there could have been a better outcome at the sentencing hearing, he doubted a full sense of closure would ever be possible after losing his five colleagues.
“I was almost killed myself,” Gillespie said outside the courthouse. “It’s something that haunts me every day.”
In July, a jury took less than two hours to reject arguments from Ramos' lawyers during a 12-day trial that he was not criminally responsible due to mental illness for killing Winters, Hiaasen, John McNamara, Gerald Fischman and Rebecca Smith.
Ramos had pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible to all 23 counts against him in 2019, using Maryland’s version of an insanity defense. The case was delayed several times before and during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The judge was crystal clear that Jarrod Ramos should never be allowed to walk out of prison — ever," Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said of the sentence handed out Tuesday.
San Felice, who watched one of her colleagues get shot and survived one of the deadliest attacks on a newsroom in U.S. history by hiding under her desk, testified that she and other survivors were determined to “press on” and not let the traumatic attack stop them.
“Remember this,” she said, as Ramos sat on the other side of the courtroom. “You cannot kill the truth.”
Ramos declined to make a statement in court when asked by his attorney, Katy O’Donnell.
Prosecutors said Ramos, 41, acted out of revenge against the newspaper after it published a story about his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of harassing a former high school classmate in 2011. Prosecutors said his long, meticulous planning for the attack — which included preparations for his arrest and long incarceration — proved he understood the criminality of his actions.
They also highlighted how Ramos called 911 from the newsroom after the shooting, identified himself as the gunman and said he surrendered — evidence, they said, that he clearly understood the criminality of his actions.
This story has been edited to correct the spelling of McNamara.