A jury decided that the driver responsible for a deadly 2017 Times Square rampage that killed a teenage tourist and injured others was not responsible for his actions because of mental illness.
According to CBS News, the defence successfully argued that Richard Rojas, 31, who plowed his car through Times Square crowds for three blocks, had a history of mental illness. Facing numerous charges, including murder, Rojas had pleaded not guilty.
The jury’s verdict allows Rojas to be committed to a psychiatric facility instead of going to prison. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
During the trial, which began in May, victims testified about the life altering injuries they sustained during the incident, with the prosecution described as “a horrific, depraved act.”
But the defence, who included testimony from family members, sought to portray Rojas as mentally unwell, detailing how he slipped into psychosis after being kicked out of the Navy in 2014.
The issue of guilt was Never in question, with multiple security videos showing Rojas behind the wheel of the car after it crashed, with him exiting the vehicle on camera. However, the case rested on whether he was mentally competent when he committed the act.
Prosecutor Alfred Peterson said during closing arguments that while it was true Rojas was experiencing a psychotic episode, including auditory hallucinations, when he drove his car through the crowd, he was still coherent enough to drive his car onto the sidewalk for three blocks, purposely hitting pedestrians until he crashed.
“[It was] impossible for him not to know exactly what was happening,” Peterson said. “But he didn’t stop.”
The prosecutor recounted that after the defendant crashed, the first words he spoke were, “I wanted to kill them all.”
Defense attorney Enrico DeMarco argued that Rojas’s history of mental illness made it impossible for him to understand what he was doing that day.
“This a case about a 26-year-old who lost his mind,” DeMarco said.