Richard E. Vatz is a professor of rhetoric at Towson University, specializing in political and psychiatric rhetoric, and psychology editor of USA Today Magazine.

Americans have had doubts about the validity of the insanity plea in criminal cases at least since the 1980s, when John W. Hinckley Jr. was found not guilty in federal court in the attempted murder of President Ronald Reagan.

The presumption for insanity is no longer the case in the federal courts.

In Maryland, the burden of proof, only by a preponderance of the evidence, is on the defendant for a “not criminally responsible” plea.

Jarrod Ramos is accused of first-degree murder for killing five people at the Capital Gazette newspaper offices in Annapolis. He originally pleaded not guilty but changed his plea to “not criminally responsible,” claiming that he did not have the “capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct,” Maryland’s equivalent of the insanity plea.

On Oct. 28, he pleaded guilty. Some experts speculate that doing so will limit the salience of the gory details of the killings going forward to the jury’s consideration of his state of mind when he committed the slayings.

He has been examined by a state health department psychiatrist — who found Ramos legally sane — and mental health “experts” for the defense who will argue that he is “not criminally responsible.”

Ramos’s entered plea is based on the claim that “at the time of the conduct alleged in the above captioned case, the Defendant, because of a mental disorder, lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct, and/or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law.”

It is hard to imagine a case that comprises more conscious criminal intent than the mass murder of Capital Gazette employees Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Gerald Fischman and John McNamara.

The accused, Ramos, had, as the prosecution alleges, carefully planned the attack: He had smoke grenades and a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and barricaded the rear exit of the office to prevent people from escaping. Many mass murderers do not plan such attacks so cruelly and methodically. Also, after he perpetrated the killings, he hid under a desk at the Capital Gazette office, demonstrating that he knew the act was wrong and that people would be searching to catch him.

Ramos’s premeditation, or malice aforethought, is manifest also through time. Years ago, he had filed a losing defamation lawsuit against the Capital Gazette and had sent threats against the paper through letters and social media.

Many people understand that there are always selected psychiatrists who are available for hire to testify as expert witnesses that an accused criminal is sufficiently mentally ill or unable to conform his or her behavior to the requirements of the law that he or she should not be held responsible for crimes. But critics have long recognized, through psychiatric mystification masquerading as medical analysis, that psychiatric testimony can convince jurors that even someone who hates someone, announces it publicly and then tries to kill that person may be successfully labeled as criminally insane.

When that happens, the killer is remanded to a psychiatric institution and released as soon as the psychiatric authorities administering care convince the judge that the accused is safe to release.

Let’s hope in the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court that Judge Laura S. Ripken and the jury hearing the case have more sophistication than that which would allow such a travesty of justice. Ramos, having now pleaded guilty to the killings, is banking on the success of his fraudulent insanity plea. It’s up to the jury to decide if he is criminally responsible.

The writer is a professor of rhetoric at Towson University, specializing in political and psychiatric rhetoric, and psychology editor of USA Today Magazine.

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