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Skateboard Star Confesses to Rape, Torture : Arraignment: Prosecutor alleges Rogowski confession includes brutal details of rape and beatings for three hours before strangling woman in a twisted revenge murder.

May 10, 1991|AMY WALLACE and JONATHAN GAW | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A San Diego County prosecutor on Thursday described international skateboard champion Mark (Gator) Rogowski as a jilted lover who allegedly raped, tortured and murdered his ex-girlfriend's best friend in a twisted act of revenge.

At Rogowski's arraignment on murder charges in Superior Court in Vista, Deputy Dist. Atty. Gregory Walden drew upon the 24-year-old's confession earlier this week to paint a brutal scenario of the March 20 killing of Jessica Bergsten, a 21-year-old Arizona woman who had recently moved to San Diego.

About a week before the killing, Rogowski--who competed under the name Mark Anthony--had visited the home of his ex-girlfriend, Brandi McLain, and "contemplated" killing her, but McLain wasn't home, Walden said. Later, when Bergsten called to ask Rogowski to show her around the area, he lured her to his Carlsbad condominium and allegedly beat her partially unconscious with a steering wheel lock bar, Walden said.

Then, Rogowski allegedly took Bergsten to his bedroom, handcuffed her hands and feet and sexually assaulted her for three hours, Walden said. When she called out for help, Walden said, Rogowski became concerned that neighbors might hear, so he allegedly placed her inside a surfboard bag and strangled her.

"It apparently was out of anger over the break-up of the defendant with his girlfriend. He somehow blamed Jessica for the break-up . . . ," Walden said. Later, in an interview, he noted that Bergsten and McLain, both blond, petite models, had been friends in Arizona. Rogowski, he said, viewed Bergsten "as being the same type of girl as Brandi was. He'd been dumped."

Rogowski, dressed in a blue jail-issue uniform, sat with his head bowed as Walden told Judge William B. Draper Jr. that he sought $2-million bail because the hours of alleged torture appear to make this a case with special circumstances. Special circumstances are required for prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Draper set bail at $1.5 million, but said if Rogowski gives up his passport, bail may be reduced at a later date. Walden said if Rogowski is able to make bail, he will ask for bail to be set higher.

Bergsten, a native of Tucson, Ariz., had moved to the Pacific Beach section of San Diego not long before she was killed, Walden said. Her father, a Tucson attorney, reported her missing on March 29, according to Ralph Smith, a coroner investigator.

Smith said Bergsten's car, a red Honda, has not yet been found.

On Thursday, Bergsten's cheerful voice could still be heard on her answering machine: "This is Jessica. Please leave a message. Thank you."

Late Thursday, the San Diego County coroner's office confirmed that Bergsten's dental records matched the skeletal remains found by campers on April 10 in a remote patch of Imperial County desert. But even before positive identification was made, Walden said Rogowski's confession, during which he led investigators to the exact spot where the April 10 discovery was made, had already convinced him.

"The only person who really would know ought to be Mr. Gator, since he's the one that killed her and dumped her body in the desert," Walden said in an interview, saying that Rogowski confessed that after he killed Bergsten, he removed the handcuffs, dumped her in his car and drove east, destroying "the evidence as he was driving out there."

He said Rogowski's voluntary confession would not be a mitigating factor in the case.

"The fact that he turned himself in . . . does not change the fact that he tortured a girl for three hours, strangled and murdered her and dumped her out in the desert," he said in an interview. "The body was basically a skeleton when we found it."

He added: "It's absolutely outlandish, what he did. And above and beyond that, apparently he hasn't shown any remorse."

Rogowski, who apparently had experienced a recent religious reawakening, was accompanied by his pastor on Tuesday when he turned himself in to San Diego police. They in turn alerted the Carlsbad Police Department, which is handling the investigation.

Rogowski, who is listed as one of the top 10 skateboarders in the world, has no previous criminal record. He has lived in the San Diego area for 21 years.

A preliminary hearing has been set for May 22.

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