by Efrén Paredes, Jr.
For the past month the documentary, "Mario's Story," has been featured on the cable television network Showtime. It will continue to air each Monday through the end of this month.
The documentary is about Mario Rocha, a 16-year-old student at a Los Angeles high school, who was accused of opening fire at a party in 1996 that resulted in the death of a high school student. Mario was tried as an adult and sentenced to two life sentences in prison. Two others were also convicted.
Mario has always maintained his innocence and adamant that he did not commit the crime he was accused of committing. Several witnesses at the party where the killing took place say they saw Mario run for cover when the shots were fired. They say he had nothing to do with the shooting.
Mario was represented pro bono by a legal team from the high-profile law firm Latham & Watkins. Their work on Mario's appeals for nearly eight years resulted in the reversal of his conviction in 2006 on the grounds of ineffective assistance of trial counsel.
After an appeals court reversal in August 2006 pending the re-filing of charges by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office Mario was released on a $1 million bond. Los Angeles County prosecutors announced October 28, 2009 that they would not retry the case and dismissed the charges.
Since his release from prison Mario has been actively involved in several progressive projects and a wide range of social activism. He currently resides in Washington, DC, and is attending George Washington University where he is pursuing a degree in International Affairs and Communications.
Mario is currently working with Bruce Saito, Executive Director, Los Angeles Conservation Corps, developing a re-entry program for ex-offenders in California for people ages 18-25. Last Summer he traveled to Washington, D.C., to teach creative writing in a juvenile correctional facility.
April 9, 2009 Mario appeared at Berkeley Law School where his documentary, "Mario's Story," was screened. After the screening he was interviewed, during which time he discussed his case and problems in the criminal justice system. The event was hosted by the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal.
Mario is a member of the The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee to Free Efrén Paredes, Jr. and a staunch supporter of my campaign for freedom. In March 2008 he organized an event in Los Angeles during the Fast for Freedom which was observed on my behalf globally. He has discussed my case during several radio interviews and presentations about the subjects of wrongful convictions or juvenile life without parole sentences.
I am proud to know Mario and call him a friend. His unyielding commitment to pursuing justice is an inspiration to others who have been wrongly convicted. He is also an example to the world that young people who go to prison — unlawfully or otherwise — can and still do positive things with their lives and be productive citizens, if given the opportunity.
Mario is a positive role model for Xicano/Latino youth and he continues to use his life to help others. Though he has lost many years of his own life to wrongful imprisonment, he persists sharing the freedom he was restored only a few years ago to improve the future of our youth. These are selfless acts of generosity that could only be borne in the heart of a person who has unadulterated love for humanity and an intense desire to foster its perpetual evolution.
When I spoke to Mario via phone two weeks ago he expressed a strong interest in visiting Michigan in the coming weeks to help garner additional support for my release and to share his personal experience with people in the Midwest. We look forward to Mario visiting Michigan in the coming weeks.
To learn more about Mario you can view the "Mario's Story" documentary trailer below and visit the "Mario's Story" web site at: http://www.mariostory.org.