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Mario Rocha’s Story on Showtime

March 16th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Last October, I wrote about the story of 29-year-old Mario Rocha when the murder case
against him was finally dismissed.

Just to remind you: As a sixteen-year-old
Mario was arrested for a 1996 murder he always maintained he did not commit. He was tried as an adult, convicted on the say so of one witness and sentenced to two life sentences in an adult prison.

In most cases, that would have been the end of the story,
but a remarkable and very determined Catholic nun named Sister Janet Harris, met Mario when he was in Eastlake Juvenile Hall awaiting trial and became convinced that he was innocent. After he was convicted, Sister Janet continued to be haunted by Mario’s case, and decided she had to help him.

She reviewed thousands of pages of trial transcript
, and tracked down new witnesses, and eventually talked a high-powered LA legal firm into taking the case pro bono.

In 2005, the impossible happened:
a California appeals court overturned his sentence on the grounds that he was inadequately represented. In the summer of 2006, Mario was freed after 10 and a half years in prison.

The prosecutors in the LA DA’s office said they would refile. Then in October of last year, they dropped the case altogether.

A terrific documentary was made about his case. For seven years, filmmakers followed Mario Rocha’s struggle’s to free himself with Sister Janet’s help, getting amazing access inside Calipatria State Prison.

The the result is Mario’s Story.
The film did well in festival rounds but had no wide release. Now, however, it is showing on Showtime for most of this month. If you have access to that premium channel I strongly suggest you watch it. You won’t be sorry.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, juvenile justice | 29 Comments »

29 Responses

  1. Woody Says:

    Who did commit the murder?

    - – -

    California appeals court overturned his sentence on the grounds that he was inadequately represented.

    Boy, can I think of a lot of laws that should be overturned because the American people are inadequately represented.

  2. Pokey Says:

    Certainly no man should be imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit and we all morn these occasional miscarriages of justice.

    But, for every Mario Rocha story there are 100 stories like Edward Ross Lopez, 28 years old and father of two, who was gunned down last Wednesday as the result of a drive-by shooting in desert hot springs.

    Ed and a woman were talking outside their apartment at 7:45 PM on Wednesday March 12, 2009, when a dark mini van slowed and a Hispanic male passenger in his late teens or early 20’s fired five shots. Ed was killed and the woman was wounded.

    The Authorities have identified NO motive in the shooting.

    The young mans uncle, Ed Lopez who he was named after lives in Joshua Tree, is a licensed contractor and I have known for two years. Ed and I have been working together on renovating a small home for the last six months.

    The shooter is described as a Hispanic male in his late teens to early 20s. He is approximately 5 feet 8 inches tall and has a thin build. He was last seen wearing light-colored clothing and was a passenger in a dark-colored minivan that stopped in front of the complex and fired five shots.

  3. jessica mogul Says:

    Justice seems to be a right most available to the rich in our country. The story of Mario touched my heart…

  4. INterested party Says:

    I must mention that I am caucasian when I say that I feel to talk about someone who was shot by an Hispanic as though comparing it to Mario’s Story, is ridiculous. You could say the same about black, white or any nationality. There are people who murder out there. If you watched Mario’s story, and I don’t know no anyone involved in it, you become a believer that injustice was done. Why bring up other hispanics that have committed a crime, as if to say No big deal if an innocent gets accused because so many others do commit the crimes. Just a stupid comparison in my opinion

  5. inez Says:

    Marios story is remarkable! i watched it on showtime and literally cried over and over. I recommend any one to watch his story it is by far the most touching story i have watched in a long time. Mario is an inspiration to me. He has tought to not ever give uo hope. Hope is a strong word a strong feeling and a word to never be forgotten. Truth is the answer and in his case he was telling the truth, had faith, hope and never gave up any of that. I have the utmost respect for Mario and wish him the best in life, he deserves it by far! God bless you Mario!!
    Love always Inez S.

  6. Maya Says:

    Wow..I just watched the story on Showtime! Mario is such an intelligent man! He was so strong! He knew in his heart, he put it all in Gods hands. He never doubted and this is amazing! I am so in love with this story. I just stopped! Thank you Jesus for Mario’s freedom!


  7. PAUL RANDOLPH LOPEZ, JR Aka Apollo Cortez Says:

    my cuz is Edward Ross Lopez, who was gunned down in front of his apt In DHS march 12 2009. I believe that no matter what people try to do there will always be violence, Murders, Robings, stabbings and Drive By Shootings. But the one thing that we have to hope for is the chance to see our loved ones agian, Im not preching on here Im just saying that the lives of young/old/innocent people that have lost theres chance to live there full life will be given a chance I know they will…god is good, he knows and see’s what we go through but the main question you have to ask yourself is do you believe in him that much to know that you will see your loved one agian…I will and god willing so did the familys of that man mario…I will see my cuz agian I know I will. this is a loss that has crushed out family, we have now three cusions a 1 female and 2 males that have passed away now due to gang shooting, or by use of a firearm….guns dont kill people, people kill people…my cuz was no gang member and neather was my cuz vanessa but they were both cought in the line of fire, and my cuz may he rest in peace “Rascal” just needed time to get through things that were happening and that did happen in his life….I wish that I could hold my loved ones agian, I wish I had just a lil more time to say How have you been?….Hows life? How the job going? Hows the car running? Whats your main goal in life? What did you always wanna be when you grew up? But I can’t and thats really dose show me that I need to take advantage of the time that I have to spend with my loved ones now… Goal is to spend as much Time as I can with the loved ones that I have now, and not look back and say damn I WISH I HAD! just that one moment to say I love u cuz or I love u dad/mom or I love you baby/ grandma or grandpa cuzin, brother/sister aunt or uncle, anything close to you that you know in your heart deserves your attention and love….give first and lets start makeing a new goal together to make a lil small start of a difference in each others life….

    thanks for listening….

    Paul Randolph Lopez, Jr
    Aka Apollo Cortez-

    In Loveing Memory Of Edward Ross lopez R.I.P Cuz

    Far From Done..

  8. PAUL RANDOLPH LOPEZ, JR Aka Apollo Cortez Says:

    date correction on shooting MArch 13 2009 sorry for the mistake…

  9. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Paul, I’m so, so sorry. My prayers go out to you and your family.

    Your cousin was at least very lucky in this life to have a loving cousin like you.

    Thank you so much for letting us know.

  10. Mariposa Says:

    I must say that Mario Rocha’s case inspire me to enjoy my freedom and to see life with another prospective in life, people can complain about stuped things, but don’t realize and enjoy the freedom that we have.
    God bless Mario for been so brave, and example for the latino comunity

  11. EJ Craig Says:

    I saw the documentary of your life on cable tonight. Your story moved me man. Thank God you stood strong and was hopeful during this time. Congratulations man. This is a victory of Freedom..

  12. Christina Rodriguez Says:

    I also saw your story on cable. Your story shows the testimony of God’s goodness and grace. Your faith has led you through to your freedom. Blessings to you and your family.

  13. Cassie Says:

    I too, watched Mario’s story and sat in disbelief not only over the fact that he was innocent that was bad enough but the childhood that was completely stolen as a result and the time it took this system to overturn the initial ruling is heart wrenching. Mario, is an amazing human being. Because in what I saw, he never once spoke ill about the system or anyone that was involved in this awful experience. The world actually needs not just a few more Mario’s but a whole lot of them, because if this world had even a touch of the faith, kindness and patience that Mario beholds my what a wonderful world it would be. I wish this young man more than the best in life. I could not even imagine my daughter having to have gone through anything that Mario not only went through, stayed strong and survived. I know that our justice system is not perfect, but once such neglect is determined to have existed, it should never take nearly 11 years to take care of. It is unfortunate that prejudices continue to exist in our society, and from what I saw, prejudice played a large part in taking away Mario’s childhood forever. I know that there are both good and bad people in this world, but I want to continue to believe that people for the most part are inhereditly good, and although there are those bad people out that, there are many more good ones. Mario, may you have a wonderful, fullfilling life. You certainly have lived through what nobody should ever have had to live through as an innocent young boy….

  14. Taylor Says:

    I watched this story today on Showtime. I can not even begin to fathom what Mario has been through. His faith and resilience are two truly admirable characteristics. This story was very bittersweet he will never get those 10 years back, but he has been given the opportunity to make the remainder of his life even more meaningful and inspirational. I recommend everyone get familiar with this story, it is a story worth hearing.

  15. Johanna Romero Says:


  16. Jennifer Gamboa Says:

    I watched the documentary and i must say that i was quite shocked. My heart goes out to the family of the young man that was killed but at the same time Mario Rocha and his family have also suffered a loss. His family lost him for 10 + years and he lost his freedom for over a decade. I cant quite find the words to express how i feel but i was deeply moved and inspired by Mario. His faith was so powerful and watching his life over a seven year period was so hard because I felt the pain and i felt the feeling of not being able to do anything to change his situation. I wish Mario nothing but the best and would be honored to meet him one day. god Bless You and your family. People dont take your life for granted…

  17. Nina Says:

    Mario’s story was so strong and compelling for me. As citizens of this country, we should all stand for higher standards of integrity to do what is right for the betterment of this country. It’s disgusting that all those initially involved could have prevented what Mario had to endure.

  18. cheyo Says:

    When I started watching mario’s story I put everything I had to do aside .I was so intrigue on all the people sacrificing their time and energy to give this young man the justice he overwhemly deserved. The way Mario kept his composure and dignity was amazing. To the Rocha family you stood strong and never lost faith bless you all. And Mario your one of kind.

  19. Rosa T Says:

    Wow i watched the story last night on Showtime. I cried my eyes out. Mario is so intelligent and yea he never lost hope. He left it for God and thats why hes free today. God bless Mario and his familia.

  20. Justice Says:

    I, too, have recently viewed Mario Rocha’s story on Showtime. While I am relieved that Mario had people who were fighting for him, and who were able to contribute to his eventual release from false imprisonment, I am equally appalled by the lack of truth-seeking energy displayed by the judge, (the one presiding over the hearing concerning Mario’s ineffective first counsel).
    As a paralegal, I have often had to witness the miscarriage of justice which is handed down so often in our legal system. I reside in an area which hosts the seventh circuit federal court, which boasts the highest conviction rate in the nation. Unfortunately, it is EXTREMELY rare for anyone to be found innocent, and even more difficult for minorities.
    Who do we blame for this system whose outcome is so obviously influenced by ones’ social and economic status?
    It is absolutely inexcusable for this judge and for the first defense counsel to go unquestioned or unpunished. If they,or for that matter, the first prosecutor in the case, had truly acted in the name of “justice”, not only would Mario have not been found guilty, but he never would have been assaulted in prison.
    The only question I have now is whether the Rocha family pursued any legal or monetary reimbursement from the persons responsible for this travesty. It is obvious these people do not have the moral fabric necessary to apologize and admit their roles in this farce.
    In closing, I wish Mario and his family the best of luck! Continued blessings for the legal staff and for Sister Janet.
    There IS power in numbers, and together our voice will be heard!!

  21. T. Martin, NYC Says:

    I just finished watched this documentary. It was wonderful! As a Social Worker, seeing this makes we want to change my area of concentration from individual work to advocacy and policy. Although all who commit crimes are not innocent there is hope. The prison system is filled with young men and women of all nationalities who have wrongfully tried. Long prison sentences is always the answer. there are always underlying conditions. There is always hope. Change comes slowly but surely.

  22. Virginia Says:

    Mario’s Story was very touching. I had my whole family watch it. My brother Victor has spent 12years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Our parents have spent more than a $150,00.00 in legal fee’s. Three of the four attorney’s did nothing but rip of my parents. Our parents are good Christian people. But God has been good to us and has blessed my brother Victor. We are currently in an evidentiary hearing ourselves. In an Norwalk court house in L.A.
    Mario, God bless you and your family and your story has given us even more hope.

  23. Jorge C. Says:

    Damn I have never heard of anything like this to happen so close to home, as far as being re-tried and winning. I am glad that everything went well for you (Mario) and that hopefully you live on with the same energy you had when you were locked up. Yes there is A LOT of injustice, but in this case there shows that there are people with hearts in the justice world (but just a few). Stay strong and live well.

  24. john a quinones Says:

    just watched the movie.i clap my hands to your courage are trully a powerful sure this is not what you had in mind when this all happen to you,but rest assure that because of your story you have help me to appreciate my life even more today.and i am sure that it has done the same for many others.i am sorry that you had to pay such a high price to teach us so much about ourselves.thank you for never giving up.if i can say this as a man i have fallen in love with your story and you as a person,so if i can i love you very much for what you have done for me.may the rest of your life have just as much meaning.ENJOY YOUR FREEDOM.

  25. Dennis Says:

    10 and a half years in prison for a crime that was never committed by the person accused and the lawyer hired by family members thru a mortgaged house (which is nowadays a crime by the banks themselves) that never did the research or interviewed the witnesses in the first place (I hope the lawyer was disbarred because he committed a crime) – This is an OUTRAGE! But I am glad to see now that the case has been thrown out. Injustice in the extreme due to the fact that it took 10 years to get him out when he never should have been there in the first place.

  26. Hiram Says:

    mire tu istoria en la movie de showtime y la verdad me comebion mucho .. la verdad es qe las leyes emveses no son justas pero gracias a dios que nos acompana, gracias a el te puso alas personas correctas para date la ayuda que nesesitabas ..
    disfruta tu libertad in rincores a compania de tus seres qeridos , dios te bendiga mario

  27. april Says:

    i have a friend who is serving a life sentenced bases on hearsay for premettated murder but her son committed the served 12 years and walk free+

  28. Yvette Arvizu Says:

    felizidades, Mario!! acabo de mirar la pelicula de tu historia por netflix. Estoy yorando de felizidad por ti mijo, que bueno K mi dios nunca te desamparo ati ni atu fam. admirablemente eres una persona, muy fuerte de espiritu y alma,mente para ver sobrevivido tu caso con paciencia. Desde tucson,az te deseo eterna felizidad y que mi dios te vendiga a ti y atu fam. god bless you!

  29. Jami Says:

    I watched this on Netflix last night with my husband and I was so overwhelmed with the power of Mario’s spirit and those that put so much into this case. Mario is an example of all the good in this world along with his families willingness to fight through all the pain of knowing you were powerless over the courts. What a beautiful story and a must for everyone to watch. I am so happy for Mario that he is finally free and with those who love him! Thank you, Jami

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