Latham gets 29-year murder sentence thrown out

Latham & Watkins scored a huge pro bono and PR win on Wednesday, persuading the Second District Court of Appeal to throw out the 9-year-old murder conviction of Mario Rocha.

Rocha’s case had become a cause celebre in Southern California’s Catholic community. Sister Janet Harris’ activism on the case — plus Latham’s advocacy — were the subject of a lengthy front-page feature story in the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 26.

Rocha, 16 at the time, was one of three young men convicted of murder and attempted murder in a gang-related shooting at a Highland Park party in 1996. He was sentenced to 29-years-to-life in prison.

According to the Times article, Harris met Rocha in a juvenile hall where she worked as chaplain. She read his trial transcript, located new witnesses, and wrote and phoned lawyers, legislators and news reporters, according to the Times. In 1998 she gained the attention of Belinda Smith Walker, a lawyer who does work with female juvenile offenders — and wife of former Latham chairman Jack Walker. Along the way the case became the subject of a documentary film, according to the Times.

On Wednesday, Latham’s team — led by of counsel Robert Long — persuaded the Second District to vacate the sentence because Rocha’s trial attorney, Anthony J. Garcia, had rendered ineffective assistance of counsel.

Also on Rocha’s team were Latham partner Marcus McDaniel and associate Thomas “Ian? Graham, plus Pacific Palisades criminal appeals attorney Susan Nash.

– Scott Graham

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