Prosecuting attorney to seek death penalty against man for fatal shooting of NKC officer

Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 9:27 AM CDT|Updated: Mar. 21, 2023 at 3:12 PM CDT
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CLAY COUNTY, Mo. (KCTV) - The Clay County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office plans to seek the death penalty for a man charged with shooting and killing North Kansas City Police Officer Daniel Vasquez last year.

Joshua Rocha is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action for Vasquez’s death. Rocha appeared briefly in court Tuesday to learn he will be appointed a public defender who specializes in capital offense cases.

On July 19, 2022, Officer Vasquez pulled over a driver near 21st and Clay for expired tags. Investigators said Rocha shot and killed Vasquez, then drove away. A manhunt followed until Rocha turned himself in at the Clay County Courthouse Annex that same day.

On Aug. 30, a grand jury indicted 24-year-old Rocha with first-degree murder and armed criminal action. He is being held on a $2 million bond.

The impact of the Vasquez’s death was evident during his funeral service and a large candlelight vigil held last year. Community members placed flowers and keepsakes for days on a squad car memorial that was placed outside of the North Kansas City Police Department. Vasquez’s death was the first line of duty death in the North Kansas City Police Department’s history.

On Tuesday, Vasquez’s relatives, loved ones, and members of the North Kansas City Police Department stood next to Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson as he announced the decision to seek the death penalty in this case. Thompson said prosecutors reviewed the facts of the case and discussed the decision with Vasquez’s family before finalizing a decision to seek the death penalty.

According to Thompson, there are several aggravating factors involving the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting that are sufficient to raise the severity of punishment. “First, that the offense was outrageously or wantonly vile, inhumane or horrible and that it involved depravity of mind,” Thompson said.

Thompson said, secondly, the offense was committed against a peace officer while the officer was engaged in the performance of his official duties.

“Third, the act was committed for the purpose of avoiding, interfering with or preventing a lawful arrest or lawful confinement of himself or another,” Thompson said.

Rocha is scheduled to appear in court on May 2 for a hearing.