Capital Gazette Murder Trial Gets Underway In Maryland The attack at the Maryland newspaper in 2018 killed five employees. The gunman has pleaded guilty and the jury is set to decide whether he was "criminally responsible for reason of insanity."

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Jury Selection Begins In Trial Of Gunman Involved In Capital Gazette Shooting

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Jury selection starts today in Annapolis, Md., in the trial of a man who killed five people at the Capital Gazette newspaper back in 2018. The gunman has already pleaded guilty, and so this trial will determine whether he was criminally insane at the time of the shootings.

Here's Dominique Maria Bonessi of member station WAMU.

DOMINIQUE MARIA BONESSI, BYLINE: On June 28, 2018, Jarrod Ramos entered the newspaper's offices and fatally shot John McNamara, Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith. It was one of the deadliest attacks on journalists in modern U.S. history.

PHIL DAVIS: There is a sense of, you know, you don't want this to be the thing that makes your life change.

BONESSI: That's Phil Davis, the paper's former criminal justice reporter. He was hiding under his desk live-tweeting the mass shooting and later was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that managed to publish a paper the very next morning.

DAVIS: That's kind of what drove me to continue was that, once I got the feeling of everyone of, like, you know, we're going to get back to exactly what we do; we're going to tackle this how we would even if it wasn't us and try to go at it from the perspective of, you know, a local community newspaper.

BONESSI: Bruce Shapiro is the executive director of Columbia University's Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. He says it's one thing for reporters to be under attack because they're covering a gang or a disgraced politician.

BRUCE SHAPIRO: What I think sent a shockwave through newsrooms around the country was the idea of a newsroom full of colleagues being murdered just because they are journalists. It's an identity-based attack.

BONESSI: When he was in office, President Donald Trump said the news media was the enemy of the people. During the January 6 Capitol insurrection, Associated Press journalists were threatened and had their equipment damaged by Trump supporters. Last year, during the protests in Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, there were at least 160 threats to journalists across the country in one week.

SHAPIRO: The reality is that local newsrooms all over the country cover extraordinarily difficult events affecting their own families, neighbors, kids, schools, whether that is wildfires, whether that is mass shootings, whether that is COVID-19.

BONESSI: One possible motive in the trial could be Ramos' long-simmering feud with the paper. He unsuccessfully sued the Capital Gazette for defamation in 2012 after reporters wrote about his guilty plea in a stalking case.

Steve Mercer is a former Maryland public defender.

STEVE MERCER: I think there's a big gap between sort of being upset about a story that's published about one and then going in and committing a mass shooting.

BONESSI: The Capital Gazette trial has been delayed several times, due to COVID, turnover in the public defender's and state's attorney's offices and rounds of court hearings.

Journalist Phil Davis hopes the long-awaited trial brings some closure.

DAVIS: Certainly, for the families of the victims themselves - I look forward to being on the other end of this trial and, whatever the outcome is, being able to embrace them and support them, just to bring them some sort of closure.

BONESSI: Now, less than a week before the third anniversary of the shooting, 12 people will be chosen as jurors. They will determine Ramos' mental sanity. And the judge will then decide if the gunman ends up in prison or a psychiatric hospital.

For NPR News, I'm Dominique Maria Bonessi.

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