Ramos, who meticulously planned the attack, did not address the judge on Tuesday. Nobody but his attorney spoke on his behalf. The defendant, she said, told her not to ask for leniency.
But the Anne Arundel County courtroom was full of people from the greater Capital Gazette community, and more than a dozen of them spoke for the victims and the six others who narrowly survived one of the deadliest attacks against journalists in American history. They told the judge about their pain and post-traumatic stress, of their nightmares and their continued commitment to their local newspaper.
Then Anne Arundel State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess asked for the maximum sentence. She said Ramos made his rampage a “one-sided fight,” but that he should not get the last word.
Wachs — who had previously denied Ramos’s request to expedite his sentencing date — assured the courtroom that the gunman would receive the sentence he “deserves and has earned.”
“The defendant did not have the final say,” Wachs said. “The First Amendment and the community got the final say.”
The sentence marked an end to the grueling three-year legal battle that started on June 28, 2018, when Ramos stormed the Annapolis newsroom with the intention of killing as many people as possible.
Front and center on Tuesday were the five lives Ramos cut short. Hiaasen wasn’t alive to learn that his son was having a baby, or to see his youngest child settle into their first full-time job. Winters missed her daughter’s wedding. McNamara was two years and nine months away from retiring to explore the world with his wife. Smith didn’t get to witness her little sister graduate.
And every year since the shooting, Fischman has missed spending Feb. 14 with his wife. Erica Fischman shared a poem her husband wrote on one of their last Valentine’s Days together.
“I love you each day, honey, from the moment that I wake,” he wrote. “And I’m going to keep on loving you until the last breath I take.”
This summer, a jury found that Ramos had the mental and emotional capacity to be held criminally responsible for the mass shooting. Although he had pleaded guilty to the murders, his attorneys argued he was not legally sane at the time of the attack. Instead of prison, they said he should be sent to a psychiatric hospital.
The trial began amid the three-year anniversary of the attack, and for three weeks the Annapolis community was transported back to that day. Jurors were shown security footage of Ramos blasting through the glass doors of the Capital Gazette office and stalking the newsroom. First responders and police talked about the decoys he had placed outside the entrance and the barricades he used to prevent his victims from escaping.
The six survivors testified about what they heard and saw while running away or hiding beneath their desks. They talked about how they thought they would die.
But at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, those closest to the tragedy were given the opportunity to directly address Ramos for the first time.
Family members shared their last memories of their loved ones alive — their final outfit, their final text message.
Winters’s youngest daughter recounted the moment she knew her “mommy” was dead.
Summerleigh Winters Geimer, just 20 years old at the time, was at work when she learned of the shooting. She immediately called her mom, who always answered the phone. But it rang and rang, then went to voice mail.
Her older siblings were scattered across the country and the world, so Geimer went to the family reunification center set up in a desolate department store and sat alone, waiting.
Then she called them one by one to say their mom was one of the five.
“Even with a life filled with love and success,” the now 23-year-old told the courtroom, “I yearn for a lesser life if she were here.”
Others spoke of the lasting psychological scars of the attack.
Judy Hiaasen, the older sister of Rob Hiaasen, told the court she wasn’t sure she would be able to read her statement aloud.
“But then I thought about what Rob had to endure that day in that newsroom,” she said. “And I decided that if he had to face that, I can face this.”
Judy Hiaasen said she had crippling panic attacks after the shooting. As a teacher, she would sit in her classroom and think about the mass shooting that killed her brother — and how one could kill her, too. She watched out her large windows for gunmen. During a school mass shooter training, she was taught how to barricade the door or charge the attacker. But all that made her think about was the barricades Ramos used to block the newsroom exits, and the way Winters charged him with a trash can.
“My little brother was slaughtered, and the impact of that loss is indescribable,” she said. “It is unique. And it is never ending.”
Two survivors of the violence spoke.
Rachael Pacella, still a reporter at the paper, could not get past that barricaded door, so she survived by squeezing between two filing cabinets. While she hid, a clipboard cut into her leg.
She said she now has difficulty giving blood because the sharp pain reminds her of that day.
Selene San Felice, one of the most vocal of the six who survived, used her time to speak about journalism — and directly to Ramos.
She referenced the report of the state’s expert doctor, in which Ramos said he regretted that he wasn’t able to kill San Felice, too.
“He should still regret it,” she said. “Every day since he failed to kill me, I’ve committed my life to becoming a stronger and more outspoken journalist.”
San Felice hid under a desk during the attack. She texted her parents goodbye. She witnessed McNamara take his last breaths.
In the three years since, she said there were days she wondered why she lived, or if she should have lived at all. But now, she told the judge, she knows she lived to “spread the truth.”
Then San Felice turned to her left and faced Ramos.
“Remember this. You can’t kill the truth,” she said. “No matter how many journalists you shoot, there will always be people to shine a light in the darkness.”