EVERETT — Richard Rotter killed Everett police officer Dan Rocha.
That’s how public defender Natalie Tarantino began her opening statement to a jury Monday, acknowledging her client was the man who shot Rocha, 41, five times last March in the parking lot of a Starbucks in north Everett.
The beginning of the trial Monday comes just days before the anniversary of Rocha’s slaying.
After days of jury selection last week, 15 of Rotter’s peers, nine women and six men, were empaneled to decide if he is guilty of aggravated first-degree murder. If convicted, he’ll get life in prison without the possibility of parole. Three jurors will serve as alternates.
The facts of the case aren’t in dispute, Tarantino told the jury.
The eight-minute interaction between Rocha and Rotter on the afternoon of March 25, 2022, was captured on the officer’s body-worn camera.
As he did most days, Rocha was getting coffee at the Starbucks at 1010 N. Broadway when he noticed a man moving items between two cars in the parking lot, the footage shows.
Rocha thought the man, later identified as Rotter, reportedly looked suspicious. Rotter had just bought a Ford Fusion and was moving his belongings from a blue Mini Cooper into the Fusion. As Rocha walked out of the coffee shop, he called for backup on his police radio.
“Unfortunately, Dan Rocha had no idea what he was walking into,” deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson said in his opening statement.
Rotter, now 51, had been moving guns between the cars. A convicted felon, it was illegal for Rotter to have guns.
Rocha gave Rotter a “cursory patdown,” Matheson told the jury. The officer appeared to miss a shoulder holster Rotter was wearing. The holster held a Glock, the deputy prosecutor said.
Rocha told Rotter they were going to “hang tight until my partner gets here,” the body camera footage shows.
When Rotter moved toward the cars, Rocha tried to arrest him. They struggled.
Sara Conley, a shift supervisor at that Starbucks at the time, cried in court as she recalled the scene.
“I saw them wrestling,” Conley testified. “The guy’s on top of him and Dan’s underneath, and then I see the man that is on top of Dan stick his arm up in the air and I hear a gun go off. And that was when everything happened very quickly.”
In his opening statement, Matheson showed the jury images that Adam Dailey, of Monroe, took from inside the Starbucks. Dailey went to the Starbucks that day to buy the Ford Fusion for his son, not knowing the seller had also offered the vehicle to Rotter.
The images depict the end of Rocha’s life, as he tries to arrest the defendant for investigation of unlawful firearm possession. They showed Rotter pulling the Glock from his shoulder holster, and shooting Rocha in the head multiple times.
All three gunshot wounds to the head would’ve been fatal for Rocha on their own, an autopsy found.
Rotter left the scene in the Mini Cooper, running over Rocha’s body as he sped away, Dailey testified Monday afternoon.
Within two or three minutes, police arrived, Dailey said. Soon after, officers arrested Rotter following a three-car crash at 35th Street and Rucker Avenue.
After the arrest, a search of the Fusion turned up almost 2,000 fentanyl pills, heroin and methamphetamine, prosecutors allege. Police believe the street value of the drugs was between $9,000 and $16,000.
Prosecutors charged Rotter with aggravated first-degree murder, unlawful firearm possession and possession of fentanyl, heroin and meth with intent to manufacture or deliver.
In her opening statement, Tarantino argued Rotter couldn’t have been premeditated.
“It was, sadly, Mr. Rotter that day in the parking lot,” the public defender told the jury. “It was Mr. Rotter who fired the shots. You are going to hear, though, that Mr. Rotter is a fairly damaged person and that on this day, a combination of mental illness and disorders and substance abuse impaired him greatly.”
Blood tests indicated Rotter had meth and fentanyl in his system at the time of the shooting, Tarantino said.
The trial is expected to last three weeks. The evidence jurors will see includes Rocha’s body-worn camera video of his confrontation with Rotter and grisly images showing Rocha after the deadly encounter.
“The evidence throughout the course of this trial that you are going to see and hear is, at times, going to be extremely unpleasant,” Matheson said. “It is going to be grim and it’s going to be graphic. I urge you to watch and listen, to pay attention.”
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; email@example.com; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.
Talk to us
- You can tell us about news and ask us about our journalism by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 425-339-3428.
- If you have an opinion you wish to share for publication, send a letter to the editor to email@example.com or by regular mail to The Daily Herald, Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206.
- More contact information is here.