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Bail Set for Man Facing Retrial in 1996 Murder

July 29, 2006|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge set $1-million bail Friday for Mario Rocha, who is awaiting retrial on charges of murdering a 17-year-old high school student at a Highland Park party in 1996.

Rocha's conviction was overturned after a campaign, led by a Catholic nun, to persuade authorities that the evidence against him was flimsy. The California 2nd District Court of Appeal, in its December decision, ruled that Rocha's trial attorney had provided an inadequate defense.

Rocha, then 16, was tried as an adult with two others for the shooting death of Martin Aceves, a 17-year-old student at Cathedral High School near downtown L.A., and sentenced to 35 years to life in prison. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office will retry him.

Prosecutors on Friday asked Judge Michael E. Pastor for $2-million bail, citing the seriousness of the charges.

Defense attorney Stephen A. Meister countered that Rocha was not a flight risk because he has a job offer as an office assistant at Warner Bros., one of whose executives will put him up in his Century City guest room.

Pastor said he felt bound to honor the $1-million bond set by another judge before the first trial.

Rocha smiled broadly at his family and friends in the courtroom as he was led back to custody in handcuffs.

His mother, Virginia Rocha, cried happily outside the courtroom. "This is my birthday -- it's the best gift," she said.

Meister said the family might be able to put together the money for the bail through "the wonder of home equity."

David Barragan, Rocha's cousin, said the family is working on gathering resources and does not know when it might be able to raise the funds.

Christine Aceves Hansbrough, Martin Aceves' mother, said outside the courtroom that she was "very disappointed" by the bail amount. She rejects Rocha's claim of innocence.

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