Cases where insanity defenses have been successful in the US

Richard Rojas, the man who killed a teen tourist and injured dozens of pedestrians when he plowed his car through Times Square, was cleared of responsibility Wednesday because he was mentally ill at the time.

A New York City jury accepted Rojas’ defense that he was psychologically disturbed during the 2017 rampage, meaning he likely now will be sent to a mental health facility, instead of facing lengthy prison time.

Jurors didn’t doubt that Rojas, 31, was behind the wheel of the car that plowed into crowds of pedestrians on May 18, 2017. But they found he “lacked responsibility by reason of mental disease or defect” on the one count of murder and 23 assault charges he faced.

While it is rare for a judge or jury to accept a defendant’s insanity defense, it isn’t entirely unprecedented.

Here are some other instances in the US where evidence of insanity has outweighed guilt in different cases:

Lorena Bobbitt

Lorena Bobbitt made national headlines when she hacked of her then-husband John Wayne Bobbitt’s penis with a kitchen knife in 1993.

Lorena Bobbitt, who famously chopped off her husband’s penis, was found not guilty due to insanity.
Sygma via Getty Images

Then aged 24, Lorena testified she attacked her husband in their Virginia apartment after he came home drunk and tried to rape her.

Lorena, who had been facing up to 20 years for malicious wounding, was eventually found not guilty due to insanity. She was ordered to undergo a 45-day evaluation period at a state hospital and then released.

“How can you regret something that was not planned?” Lorena said in a 2019 “Today” interview. “You have to understand, I wasn’t in my right mindset.”

John Wayne’s penis was reattached following a 10-hour surgery — and he went on to have a successful porn career.

John Hinckley Jr.

John Hinckley Jr
John Hinckley Jr. spent decades in a mental institution after he shot former President Ronald Reagan.
Bettmann Archive

The man who shot and wounded President Ronald Reagan in 1981 was freed from court oversight just last week after decades in a Washington mental hospital.

John Hinckley Jr., who was charged with attempting to assassinate the 40th president, was acquitted by reason of insanity.

His defense attorneys argued that Hinckley had been obsessed with the movie “Taxi Driver” and its leading actress Jodie Foster. At one point in the film, the main character tried to kill a presidential candidate.

The shooting outside a DC hotel left Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, partially paralyzed. Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and Washington police officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded.

Cody Metzker-Madsen

Cody Metzker-Madsen
Cody Metzker-Madsen testified that he beat his foster brother to death because he thought he was killing a goblin.
AP

An Iowa teen was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2014 over the beating death of his 5-year-old foster brother — after testifying he thought he was killing a goblin.

Cody Metzker-Madsen, then 17, had been charged with first-degree murder in Dominic Elkins’ death.

The little boy’s body was discovered at the bottom of a ravine near their home in Logan and an autopsy ruled showed he’d died of blunt-force head injuries and drowning.

During his trial, Metzker-Madsen testified that he could see goblins fighting people he knew. He also said he didn’t realize it was his foster brother when he started beating him with a brick and shoving his head under the water.

The judge ordered Metzker-Madsen to be held at a state medical facility after his trial.

Chelsea Thornton

Louisiana woman Chelsea Thornton was declared legally insane by a judge after she murdered her two young children.

Thornton, then 28, was charged with shooting dead her 3-year-old son and drowning her 4-year-old daughter in her apartment in 2012.

She was facing life in prison without parole before the judge issued the insanity defense ruling.

Andrea Yates

Andrea Yates
Andrea Yates was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity of drowning her five children in a bathtub.
Getty Images

Texas mom Andrea Yates confessed to drowning her five young children in a bathtub in 2001.

Yates was initially convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Noah, John, Paul, Luke and Mary — who were all under 7 years — in 2002, but the case was appealed and eventually overturned.

She was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2006 and held in a Texas mental health facility.

Yates has repeatedly waived her annual right to a hearing that could determine if she’s eligible to be released — with the most recent being in April.