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Trial begins for man who drove through Times Square crowds killing woman

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Trial begins for man who drove through Times Square crowds killing woman
Police surround the area and close down streets in Times Square after a car rams into pedestrians in New York City on May 18, 2017. The trial for the man who drove through crowds of tourists in Times Square killing one woman and injuring 22 other people has started in a state court in New York City nearly five years after his arrest. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

May 9 (UPI) -- The trial for the man who drove through crowds of tourists in Times Square killing one woman and injuring 22 other people has started in a state court in New York City nearly five years after his arrest.

Richard Rojas, a 31-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, was arrested in 2017 after he barreled his Honda Accord down a sidewalk along Seventh Avenue between West 42nd Street and West 45th Street before crashing into protective barriers on May 18, 2017.

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Opening arguments were expected to begin before Judge Daniel Conviser in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan around 9:15 a.m. EDT, court records show.

Rojas was indicted by a grand jury and charged with 29 counts including murder for "depraved indifference" for the death of Alyssa Elsman, an 18-year-old who was on a family trip when she was killed, according to the indictment obtained by United Press International.

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His charges also included numerous counts of felony assault for recklessly causing physical injury and injury through risk of death, including for the injury of Elsman's 13-year-old sister Ava.

"Rojas' action in driving on the sidewalk at a high rate of speed for three blocks at midday in perhaps the most populous area of Manhattan is indeed a quintessential example of the depraved indifference mental state," the indictment reads.

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Photos taken by a UPI photographer after the incident showed the maroon Honda Accord partially on its side with severe damage.

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Prosecutors with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office noted in the indictment that Rojas' defense team does not dispute the facts of the case and intends "to offer a psychiatric defense."

Rojas allegedly told police that he had smoked marijuana laced with PCP, according to a criminal complaint obtained by The New York Times after his arrest.

PCP, also known as angel dust, has hallucinogenic effects that can cause users to become delusional and paranoid, resembling symptoms associated with schizophrenia, the now-shuttered National Drug Intelligence Center has said.

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"I wanted to kill them," Rojas allegedly told a traffic enforcement officer after the incident.

Law enforcement sources told The New York Times in 2017 that Rojas had reported hearing voices and experiencing hallucinations.

Just days before the Times Square rampage, Rojas was arrested after he threatened a man who had gone to his apartment to help him notarize documents with a knife and accused him of trying to steal his identity. He had previously been arrested twice for driving while intoxicated.

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