The man behind the wheel of the car that drove through crowds of pedestrians in New York’s Times Square, killing a woman and injuring 22 others, is finally facing trial after several delays of more than five years, including pandemic-induced court closures.
Opening statements are expected Monday in the trial of Richard Rojas, a 31-year-old US Navy veteran who told police after his arrest that he smoked marijuana with the hallucinogenic drug PCP before plowing through helpless tourists at the Manhattan monument in 2017. known as ‘the crossroads of the world’.
Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old from Portage, Michigan, was murdered during an annual family trip. Her 13-year-old sister, Ava, was one of the injured. Jessica Williams, of Dunellen, New Jersey, was so badly injured that her mother had to accept the diploma during her high school graduation while she was in the hospital.
Rojas’ trial, in Manhattan state court, is expected to last several months.
Prosecutors say that on May 18, 2017, Rojas drove his car from the Bronx, where he lived with his mother, through Times Square, then made a U-turn, steered his car onto a sidewalk and roared three blocks back across the sidewalk. he crashed his car into protective barriers.
Photographers captured photos of a ferocious Rojas after he climbed out of the wrecked car and ran down the street, waving his arms. PCP, or phencyclidine, can cause users to become delusional, violent or suicidal, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center.
According to prosecutors, Rojas said he “wanted to kill them all”.
Rojas pleaded not guilty on a charge in 2017 and has been held in New York City’s infamous Rikers Island prison complex ever since. His lawyer said at the time it was a “horrible thing that happened” in Times Square.
“But how we handle these kinds of things will determine how civilized we are in a society,” says attorney Enrico DeMarco.
Rojas has several previous criminal cases that paint a picture of a troubled man. Days before the Times Square incident, he pleaded guilty to harassment charges in the Bronx for pulling a knife at a notary public in his home and accusing the person of trying to steal his identity.
He also had two previous cases of drunk driving.
Rojas enlisted in the Navy in 2011 and served aboard the USS Carney, a destroyer, for part of 2012. Rojas spent his last months in the Navy at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.
In 2012, he was arrested and charged with beating a taxi driver who he said had disrespected him by overcharging, according to the arrest report. The arresting officer said that Rojas yelled, “My life is over!” while he was being held. After his arrest, Rojas told the officer that he was going to kill any police and military police he would see after his release from prison, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s report said.
Alan Ceballos, a lawyer who represented Rojas in that case, said the state charges were dropped after the military intervened to take jurisdiction over the criminal case. Naval records show that in 2013, Rojas spent two months in a naval prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was fired in 2014 as a result of a special court martial, a naval official said.