Man found not responsible for Times Square vehicle rampage

A man who used his car to hit pedestrians in Times Square has been cleared of responsibility because of mental illness

Via AP news wire
Wednesday 22 June 2022 18:12

A man who drove his car through crowds of people in Times Square in 2017, killing a young tourist and maiming helpless pedestrians, was cleared of responsibility Wednesday because of mental illness.

A jury in New York City accepted an insanity defense claiming Richard Rojas was so psychologically disturbed he didn’t know what he was doing.

The judge has said the finding would qualify Rojas for an open ended “involuntary mental commitment” instead of a lengthy prison term.

Rojas, 31, was accused in an attack that injured more than 20 people and killed Alyssa Elsman, 18, of Michigan, who was visiting the popular tourist destination with her family.

The jury was instructed that if it found prosecutors had proven their case, it also had to decide whether or not he “lacked responsibility by reason of mental disease or defect.”

The trial, which began early last month, featured testimony from victims who suffered severe injuries from what prosecutors labeled “a horrific, depraved act.”

On the defense side, family members testified how Rojas descended into paranoia after he was kicked out of the Navy in 2014.

That Rojas was behind the wheel of the car was never in doubt. Multiple security videos showed him emerging from the vehicle after it crashed. That put the focus of the case on his mental state.

In his closing argument, prosecutor Alfred Peterson conceded that Rojas was having a psychotic episode, including hearing voices, at the time of the rampage. But Peterson argued Rojas showed he wasn’t entirely detached from reality by maneuvering his vehicle onto the sidewalk and driving with precision for three blocks, mowing down people until he crashed.

One victim’s pelvis was separated from her spine. Doctors were certain she would die, but she somehow survived. Elsman’s younger sister Eva, then 13, testified during the trial about her own injuries: broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a compound leg fracture and other wounds that kept her in the hospital for weeks.

“The defendant made a decision that day,” the prosecutor, Peterson, said. “He made a choice. … He went to the ‘crossroads of the world,’ a high profile place where everyone knows there’s lots and lots of people.”

Once there, he was “in full control of his car,” he added.

Defense lawyer Enrico DeMarco told jurors “there should be no doubt” his client met the legal standard for an insanity finding. The evidence, the lawyer said, showed Rojas “lacked a substantial capacity to know what he was doing was wrong” because of an underlying illness — schizophrenia, as diagnosed by a defense psychiatrist who testified.

DeMarco played a videotape in the courtroom of Rojas jumping out of his car after it slammed into a sidewalk stanchion. Rojas could be heard yelling, “What happened? … Oh my God, what happened?” as he was being subdued, and could be seen banging his head on the ground.

Rojas, the attorney said, “lost his mind.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in