The 18-year-old’s father, murdered after a Bronx man plowed into a crowd in Times Square and injured 22 others, overturned the jury’s verdict that the man was not responsible for his crime of insanity.
Thomas Elsman, father of Alyssa, called Richard Rojas, 31, a “clown” who knew what he was doing when he ran into the crowd in New York City on May 18, 2017, killing Alyssa.
“This jury saw a different trial than I’ve experienced,” Thomas told DailyMail.com. “This clown knew exactly what he was doing and that’s why he lied about being on PCP.
“He knew he would be in trouble and sought a scapegoat for his behavior. That is intent, that is malice.
“I hope someone in Rikers does the right thing before being transferred to his new cozy room. What a piece of shit.’
Rojas, who suffers from schizophrenia, learned of his fate in the Manhattan Supreme Court on June 22.
Rojas, a United States Navy veteran from The Bronx, pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, 18 counts of attempted murder and 38 counts of assault.
The jury deliberated six hours into the case before accepting the argument of Rojas’ attorney, Enrico Demarco, that his client was so mentally disturbed that he couldn’t understand what he was doing.
The several-week trial revolved around Rojas’ mental state at the time of the horrific incident in which he killed 18-year-old Alyssa Elsman and injured 22 others when he blew into a street full of people in Times Square in 2017.
Alyssa (pictured) was on vacation in New York City at the time of her death. Her father, Thomas, denounced the jury’s decision that Rojas was not responsible for his crime of insanity and called for justice for his late daughter
Alyssa Elsman, 18 (front left) pictured with her family in Times Square. She was killed when Rojas hit her and maimed her sister
Demarco described the verdict as follows: “The verdict, whether it should have been guilty or guilty, it won’t bring that poor young woman back like that.”
He continued, “I think this is the right, humane judgment.”
Judge Daniel Conviser said Rojas will undergo further psychiatric evaluation before being sentenced to an institution. He could have been in prison for life.
The judge said Rojas is eligible for an extended ‘involuntary mental commitment’. A new hearing on the terms of his incarceration will be held on June 23.
The several-week trial revolved around Rojas’ mental state at the time of the horrific incident.
Avoiding jail time because of mental health problems is extremely rare in the United States. Often, suspects are found to be mentally ill, yet forced to undergo regular criminal trial.
In most cases, a person found not responsible because of a mental disorder will be sentenced to a facility for the same time as their likely jail term.
In most cases, a person who is found not responsible because of a mental disorder will be sentenced to a facility for the same length of time as their probable jail term
Rojas’ lawyer Enrico Demarco said the verdict was “just and humane”
In the wake of the verdict, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement, “Our condolences are extended to the family, friends and loved ones of Alyssa Elsman, who suffered a terrible and tragic loss, and all victims of this horrific incident.”
Elsman was on vacation from Michigan with her family when Rojas committed his horrific act. Her sister, Ava, suffered serious injuries, including a broken pelvis and collapsed lung.
Before the verdict, Elsman’s father told the… CW7 in Michigan what he thought of Rojas’ insanity defense.
He said, ‘I’m not buying it. I just don’t. We all have bad days, but you won’t be allowed to take your car and make a three-lane U-turn and three blocks through Times Square.”
Thomas = continued: ‘That was calculated, he knew exactly what he was doing, end of story.’
In a separate interview with the New York Post, Thomas Elsman said, “You killed my daughter and my other daughter is scarred for the rest of her life, let alone not having her sister with her, so that’s it, that’s it.”
An overview of the attack by Rojas and his victims from the New York City District Attorney’s office
An analysis of the attack by de Rojas and his victims from the New York City District Attorney’s office. Rojas killed an 18-year-old girl and injured 22 others in the attack
Prosecutor Alfred Peterson said at the trial it was “impossible” for Rojas not to know what he was doing as he plowed his car into the crowd.
Despite this, Peterson said, “He didn’t stop.”
In his closing statement to the judge, Peterson said he accepted that Rojas was in the midst of a psychotic episode when the crash occurred, but that the video proved he was in control of his actions as he maneuvered his vehicle onto the sidewalk.
Peterson added, “The defendant made a decision that day,” Prosecutor Peterson said. “He made a choice. … He went to the ‘crossroads of the world’, a prominent place where everyone knows there are a lot of people.’
Rojas’ lawyer had previously shown videos of the jurors where Rojas got out of the car after the incident and said, ‘What happened? Oh my god, what happened?’
At trial, Rojas’ brother, Wilmer Varas, testified that the killer began to develop mental health problems at age 11, fifteen years before the Times Square attack at age 26.
Varas said that Rojas would speak in tongues and complained that he heard voices in his head.
A psychiatrist who evaluated Rojas during the investigation said in the trial the former Navy sailor gave the name “James” to the voice in his head.
After the attack, Rojas told a traffic cop, ‘You had to shoot me! I wanted to kill them all.’
Another startling testimony at the trial came from Ava Elsman, who told the jury, “I just looked up and saw the car spinning and that was the last thing I saw.”
“I was in and out of consciousness,” Ava said, according to the… New York Post† “Someone told me to put my leg down or I’d bleed to death.”
She suffered broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken pelvis and compound fractures in her leg. She remembered ‘just trying to lie there’ [and] Do not die.’
One of Rojas’ victims, then-high school girl Jessica Williams of New Jersey, was interrupting class during his rage. Williams was “essentially cut in half” by his car, prosecutors said.
Shocking photos show the moment the SUV rammed into pedestrians on the sidewalk in Times Square in 2017, killing an 18-year-old and injuring 22 others
A broken down car stands on the corner of Broadway and 45th Street in New York’s Times Square after an SUV drove into the busy area in 2017
Richard Rojas pictured during his arraignment in July 2017
Prosecutors say that on May 18, 2017, Rojas drove his car from the Bronx, where he lived with his mother, through Times Square and then turned a corner.
He then steered his car up the sidewalk and roared three blocks back up the sidewalk before crashing 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.
At the time, after his arrest, the US Navy veteran told police that he had smoked marijuana with the hallucinogenic drug PCP before the incident, authorities said.
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.
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.