Richard Rojas, accused in deadly Times Square crash, found not responsible due to mental illness – CBS New York

NEW YORK — A jury has found that Richard Rojas is not responsible for plowing his car through a Times Square crowd in 2017, killing an 18-year-old tourist and injuring several others, due to mental illness. 

Deliberations began on Tuesday.   

Rojas, 31, faced numerous charges in the case, including murder. 

Alyssa Elsman, 18, was killed and 22 others were hurt in the 2017 crash. 

The defense said Rojas has a history of mental illness. He pleaded not guilty. 

The decision means Rojas qualifies for being committed instead of being sentenced to prison. 

Rojas was ordered to held while he is examined. A hearing on the matter will be held Thursday. 

Rojas’ attorney Enrico DeMarco called the verdict “right and humane,” adding that winning over the jury was an uphill battle “because it was such a horrible act.”

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.

“We are grateful to the jury for its service. Our condolences continue to be with the family, friends and loved ones of Alyssa Elsman, who suffered a terrible and tragic loss, and all of the victims of this horrific incident. I thank the prosecutors, detectives, analysts and staff members for their hard work and dedication on this long case,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said. 

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.”

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