NEW YORK (UKTN) — A man who drove his car through crowds of people in Times Square in 2017, killing a Michigan teenager and maiming helpless pedestrians, was cleared of responsibility on Wednesday due to mental illness.
A jury in New York accepted an insanity defense saying Richard Rojas was so psychologically disturbed he didn’t know what he was doing.
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The judge said the finding would qualify Rojas for an indefinite “involuntary mental commitment” instead of a lengthy prison sentence.
Rojas, 31, was charged in an attack that injured more than 20 people and killed Alyssa Elsman, 18, of Portage, who was visiting the popular tourist destination with her family.
The jury was told that if they found prosecutors had proven their case, they must also decide whether or not he “lacks liability by reason of illness or mental defect.”
The trial, which began early last month, featured testimony from victims who suffered serious injuries as a result of what prosecutors called a “horrific and depraved act”.
On the defense side, family members testified to how Rojas descended into paranoia after being kicked out of the Navy in 2014.
That Rojas was driving the car was beyond doubt. Several security videos showed him exiting the vehicle after it crashed. This put stress on his mental state.
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In his closing argument, prosecutor Alfred Peterson acknowledged that Rojas had a psychotic episode, including hearing voices, at the time of the rampage. But Peterson argued that Rojas showed he wasn’t entirely detached from reality by maneuvering his vehicle down the sidewalk and driving with precision three blocks, mowing people down until he got out of the way. crushed.
A victim’s pelvis was severed from his spine. The 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, collapsed lung, broken leg and other injuries that kept her in hospital for decades. weeks.
“The defendant made a decision that day,” prosecutor Peterson said. “He made a choice. … He went to the “crossroads of the world”, a very prominent place where everyone knows there are many, many people.
Once there, he was “in full control of his car”, he added.
Defense attorney Enrico DeMarco told jurors “there should be no doubt” that his client met the legal standard for a finding of insanity. The evidence, the lawyer said, showed Rojas ‘did not have the substantial ability to know what he was doing was wrong’ due to an underlying illness – schizophrenia, as diagnosed by a psychiatrist of the defense who testified.
DeMarco played a videotape in the courtroom of Rojas jumping out of her car after she hit a curb post. Rojas could be heard shouting, “What happened? … Oh my God, what happened? as he was overpowered, and he could be seen banging his head on the ground.
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