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. On Wednesday, a Manhattan jury found Richard Rojas not responsible due to mental illness. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
June 23 (UPI) -- A Manhattan jury has found Richard Rojas, the man accused of driving his car onto the sidewalk of Times Square and killing one person and injuring nearly two dozen others in 2017, was not responsible for his actions due to mental illness.
The jury deliberated for about six hours following a multi-week trial before ruling Wednesday that Rojas was "not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect."
Rojas, a 31-year-old Navy veteran, was facing one count of murder and 23 assault charges. Instead of jail, Judge Daniel Conviser ordered Rojas to be involuntarily held while he drafts an examination order, as state law dictates in such a ruling.
Enrico DeMarco, a lawyer for Rojas, said it was "a humane verdict," The New York Times reported.
"Finally, he's going to get the care he really needs," DeMarco said.
Rojas was arrested in Times Square on May 18, 2017, after he plowed his maroon Honda Accord down the sidewalk for three blocks of the bustling Manhattan tourist destination, hitting pedestrians, before crashing into protective barriers.
He allegedly told a traffic enforcement officer afterward that "I wanted to kill them all."
Alyssa Elsman, 18, was the lone person to be fatally struck by the car. She was visiting Times Square on a trip from Michigan with her family,
The indictment charging Rojas states that the defense team does not dispute the facts and intends "to offer a psychiatric defense."
Prosecutors during the trial, which began early last month, had argued that while the defendant did suffer from mental illness he was cogent enough to know what he was doing.
During closing arguments, assistant District Attorney Alfred Peterson said, "the defendant made a decision that day."
"He went to the 'Crossroads of the World,' a high profile place where everyone knows there's lots of people," he said.
DeMarco retorted that his client had "lost his mind."
In a statement following the verdict, District Attorney Alvin Bragg thanked the jury for their service and sent condolences to the Elsman family.
"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," he said.