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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mario Rocha -- Another Case of Wrongly Convicted Juvenile

When Mario Rocha was only 16, he was tried as an adult and sentenced to two consecutive life terms for murder. Mario spent the ensuing decade of his life incarcerated in California, all the while professing his innocence. Despite being beaten down both physically and emotionally while in prison, Mario and his team of dedicated advocates, including his family, his legal team, and members of the religious community, never gave up hope that one day justice would prevail against all odds.

Mario's Story is a new documentary following Mario's case over the course of the past 10 years. It details the faulty investigation and ineffective counsel that led to Mario's wrongful conviction, as well as the tireless efforts of Mario's attorneys that eventually resulted in the vacating of his conviction. The film also chronicles Mario's remarkable efforts to help others while in prison; a gifted and prolific writer, Mario penned poems, songs and plays about his experience which were shared with local at-risk youth.

Above all else, the film is a testament to the voracity of Mario's spirit, which, even during his darkest times, never ceased to fight against injustice and look towards a future of freedom. Mario's Story is a must-see for anyone concerned about the causes and consequences of wrongful convictions and the inner workings of our broken justice system.

Directed by award-winning filmmakers Susan Koch and Jeff Werner, Mario's Story premiered in June at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature, and is now being screened in film festivals across the US and to an enthusiastic audience response. More information about the film can be found at


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Mario Rocha, a young Latino kid from East LA, was convicted of murder and attempted murder on the basis of one eyewitness identification and no physical evidence. He was 16 years old at the time of his arrest, yet tried as an adult and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. While in Juvenile Hall waiting two years for his trial, Mario discovered his talent for writing.

Mario's chances of regaining his freedom are less than 1 percent. Once found guilty by a jury, it is almost impossible to overturn the conviction. This film interweaves Mario's story and writings as an inmate in one of California's toughest prisons, with the efforts of an unexpected group of people who have come together to win his freedom. They include Sister Janet Harris, the feisty and unstoppable former chaplain at Juvenile Hall; Mario's pro-bono attorneys at Latham and Watkins, one of the nation's most prestigious law firms; and a private detective/screenwriter.

For over 7 years, the filmmakers were given unprecedented access to film inside Calipatria State Prison as well as the behind-the-scenes legal efforts. While the film raises serious questions about our criminal justice system as it follows the often discouraging but determined efforts to win Mario's freedom, it is also a hopeful and inspiring story. Mario's own personal growth in prison reveals how even under the worst conditions, the human spirit can rise and reach out to others.

Mario's Story is a "deeply moving film and a nail-biting thriller."

Source: Los Angeles Film Festival