Defense begins in trial of man charged with killing Everett Officer Dan Rocha

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Richard Rotter’s attorneys argue he was not able to make rational decisions when he killed officer Dan Rocha.

EVERETT, Wash. — Attorneys began their defense Thursday of the man who admits to killing an Everett police officer.

Richard Rotter planned to plead guilty to the crime, at one point, but changed his mind at the last minute. He is charged with premeditated first-degree murder.

Rotter’s cognitive capacity is central to his defense.

Rotter claims to have a brain injury suffered in a car wreck in 1995 that put him in a coma for more than a week, along with multiple concussions from high school football and a head injury from a baseball bat.

He has also been diagnosed with PTSD, depression and substance use disorder. 

Psychologist Dr. Wendi Wachsmuth confirmed those conditions. She testified Rotter was also high at the time of the killing and could not have premeditated the murder.

“His deficits at the time were such that it would be very difficult to do something so planful and organized,” Wachsmuth said.

Rotter shot officer Dan Rocha five times during a scuffle. Three of those shots came at point blank range to the head.

Prosecutor Craig Matheson contends that alone is evidence of premeditation.

“You gotta pull that trigger one, two, three, four, five times, right?” He asked Dr. Wachsmuth.

The killing happened in August of 2022 when Rocha confronted Rotter about moving guns between two vehicles outside a north Everett Starbucks. Rotter had traveled from the Tri-Cities to Everett where he planned to buy a car.

Prosecutors contend cellphone video shows Rotter fighting to keep his right hand free in order to grab his gun and kill Rocha. That, in their minds, also proves premeditation.

But the expert witness never watched that video.

“Don’t you think in a case like this where you’re going to offer an opinion that you have an obligation to look at every bit of information that might have relevance to your conclusion?” asked Matheson.

“I do, and I feel like I did,” replied Wachsmuth.

The defense counters that Rotter didn’t come to Everett to kill a police officer, but to buy a car.

The 26 seconds of struggle leading up to the shooting put him in a fight or flight mode, not premeditation, they argued.

“His actions and behaviors were concurrent with somebody in an extremely altered state of mind,” testified Dr. Wachsmuth.

If convicted of premeditated first degree murder Rotter will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

If not, he could be convicted of several much lesser charges.

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Defense begins in trial of man charged with killing Everett Officer Dan Rocha

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