Alaska News

Jury convicts cab driver in Anchorage Times assault by attempted murder charge doesn't hold

Originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on April 13, 1988

Cab driver Donald Ramsey was found not guilty Tuesday of attempting to murder publisher Robert Atwood, but convicted of seven other charges associated with his armed assault on The Anchorage Times building on Oct. 21, 1986.

One of the guilty verdicts returned by the jury for attempted kidnapping carries a presumptive seven-year prison term.

Jurors also acquitted Ramsey of criminally negligent burning. A powerful smoke grenade he loosed in the lobby area set the building on fire.

In addition to the attempted kidnapping, the jury convicted him of three counts of third-degree assault and two counts of reckless endangerment.

The verdicts were a victory for defense attorney Craig Howard, who said from the beginning of the trial that the attempted murder count was the only issue in dispute. Ramsey had admitted the other charges in recorded statements to police.

According to one juror, the panel decided the state did not prove Ramsey really intended to do anything more than hurl macho threats at Atwood.


The jury returned its verdicts Tuesday afternoon, after listening to eight days of testimony and argument, and deliberating over two days. Atwood and several other people from the Times listened stonefaced from the back of the courtroom. Atwood, 81, said later he just wanted to make sure Ramsey stayed in jail for a while.

"My only concern has been if they found him not guilty and turned him loose," he said after the jury had been dismissed. "What position does that leave me in . . . what are my options with him running around loose?"

In his statements to investigators, Ramsey expressed great animosity for Atwood by name. He said he believed the publisher and other political figures were conspiring against him and were responsible for a fire that destroyed his apartment.

Assistant District Attorney Valerie Van Brocklin said she might argue that Ramsey should get more than the presumptive sentence because of the unusually serious nature of his actions.

Defense attorney Howard said Ramsey is "obviously no danger to the public, but whether he's a danger to Mr. Atwood . . ." he said, leaving the sentence unfinished. "Mr. Atwood should be able to live the rest of his life without worrying."

Howard said he expected Rowland would give Ramsey a substantial sentence with lots of probation time tacked on to it.

He described Ramsey as a naive political activist who "just snapped" when he found he couldn't right wrongs by simply pointing them out to public officials.

On the day Ramsey decided to force the Times to print a "manifesto," Ramsey entered the building at about 9 a.m., dressed like a guerilla fighter, a rifle in his hands and a handgun hidden somewhere on his person. He used a smoke bomb and firecrackers to drive employees from the first floor and fired shots into the ceiling as he mounted the stairs to Atwood's second floor office.

He said he was angry because the Times refused in August to publish a political ad in which he attacked U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski.

Atwood and his daughter, Elaine Atwood, fought with Ramsey for control of his guns and eventually subdued him, but not before many more wild shots were fired. No one was killed or seriously injured in the attack.

Sheila Toomey

Sheila Toomey was a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News.