Man Not Responsible for Times Square Vehicle Attack That Killed Michigan Teen – CBS Detroit

NEW YORK (AP) — A man who drove his car through a crowd of people in Times Square in 2017, killing a Michigan teenager and maiming defenseless pedestrians, was cleared of responsibility Wednesday because of mental illness.

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

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The judge said the discovery would qualify Rojas for an unending “involuntary mental commitment” rather than a long prison term.

A photo of victim Alyssa Elsman of Portage, Michigan is posted at a barricade in Times Square on May 19, 2017, the morning after Richard Rojas crashed his car into a crowd of pedestrians in Times Square, New York. , killing one person and injuring 22 people.
A US Navy veteran who ran over pedestrians in New York’s Times Square, killing a woman and injuring 22 others, has been charged with murder and attempted murder, police said on Friday. / AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit must be TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

Rojas, 31, was accused of 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 instructed that if it thought the prosecutors had proved his case, it would also have to decide whether he “had no responsibility by reason of illness or mental defect.”

The trial, which began early last month, featured testimonies from victims who suffered serious injuries in what prosecutors called “a horrific and depraved act”.

On the defense side, family members witnessed how Rojas fell into paranoia after he was expelled from the Navy in 2014.

That Rojas was behind the wheel of the car was never in doubt. Several security videos showed him exiting the vehicle after it crashed. This put the case’s focus on her mental state.

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Alyssa Elsman. (Photo: Portage Central High School)

In his closing argument, prosecutor Alfred Peterson admitted that Rojas was having a psychotic episode, including hearing voices, at the time of the attack. But Peterson argued that Rojas showed he wasn’t entirely unconnected with reality by maneuvering his vehicle onto the sidewalk and driving precisely for three blocks, mowing people into a crash.

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

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

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

Defense attorney Enrico DeMarco told jurors that “there must be no doubt” that his client met the legal standard for an insanity finding. The evidence, the lawyer said, showed that Rojas “did not have a substantial capacity to know what he was doing wrong” because of an underlying illness – schizophrenia, diagnosed by a defense psychiatrist who testified.

DeMarco played a videotape at the Rojas courthouse jumping out of his car after it crashed into a sidewalk pole. Rojas could be heard yelling, “What happened? … Oh my God, what happened? as he was being subdued, and could be seen hitting his head on the ground.

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