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Parole grant reversed for ‘Gator,’ former skateboard superstar convicted for 1991 rape, murder

Mark Anthony "Gator" Rogowski, seen in this April 2019 photo, was convicted of rape and murder in the 1991 death of Jessica Bergsten.
(California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

Mark Anthony “Gator” Rogowski confessed to killing a model and burying her in a shallow grave.

The governor has denied parole for a former skateboarding superstar who admitted to the 1991 rape and murder of a model in his Carlsbad condo, a decision that comes more than four months after the inmate was found suitable for release.

In a review explaining the reversal, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Mark Anthony “Gator” Rogowski needs to develop “a deeper understanding” of what led him to ambush Jessica Bergsten, a friend who’d come over to watch a movie.

“Mr. Rogowski appears to still have only a superficial understanding of what triggered him to inflict prolonged sexual violence on his victim and then kill her,” Newsom’s review reads.

Newsom found Rogowski “poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time.”

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Mark "Gator" Anthony Rogowski murder trial
Jessica Bergsten, 22, had moved to Pacific Beach from Arizona shortly before she disappeared in March 1991. Her skeletal remains were found about 10 days later in the desert in Imperial County, but they were not identified until Mark Anthony “Gator” Rogowski confessed to the murder.
(Handout photo)

The governor’s reversal came Thursday. In December, a small panel of parole hearing officers found that the 53-year-old was suitable for release. It came on the third try for Rogowski, who is housed at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa. Previous bids for parole were denied in 2011 and 2016.

With the reversal, Rogowski, 53, will not be eligible for another parole suitability hearing until June 2021.

In a statement Monday, San Diego Dist. Atty. Summer Stephan said Rogowski “showed a high degree of callousness and brutality when he raped and murdered an innocent young woman.”

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“We are grateful to Gov. Gavin Newsom for his decision to reverse the Parole Board’s decision and that this dangerous and violent predator will remain in prison,” Stephan said.

Mark "Gator" Anthony Rogowski murder trial
“Official says victim was a substitute for suspect’s girlfriend,” headline from The San Diego Union on May 10,1991
(The San Diego Union)

In a phone interview Monday, Rogowski’s attorney said his client has learned much in the 29 years since the killing. Michael Evan Beckman said his client does have insight and is not dangerous.

“It is a decision based on the governor’s personal repugnance of this crime,” Beckman said. “And while understandable, that is not the way the law is supposed to work.”

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Beckman has said that Rogowski has remorse, and during his long incarceration he earned a bachelor’s degree, took vocational courses, became a certified paralegal and internalized the teachings of self-help programs. The attorney also has noted that in the year before the attack, Rogowski had suffered a serious head wound and his behavior had changed.

The attack occurred the night of March 21, 1991, when Bergsten, new to the region, went to Rogowski’s condo to watch a movie. Rogowski would tell authorities that, at one point in the evening, he went inside his garage, grabbed a steering wheel lock and slammed it down onto Bergsten’s head.

Mark "Gator" Anthony Rogowski murder trial
Former skateboard superstar Mark Anthony Rogowski was sentenced to 31 years to life in prison in a Vista courtroom on March 6, 1992.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune)

He screamed Bible verses at the dazed 22-year-old before handcuffing her and cutting off her clothes.

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Rogowski, then 24, raped Bergsten repeatedly. When he tried to stuff her into a surfboard bag, Bergsten kicked and screamed and struggled. Fearing the neighbors would hear her scream, he suffocated her.

He drove Bergsten’s body to the desert outside Ocotillo, burying her in a shallow grave off Interstate 8. Along the way, he chucked evidence, including the steering wheel lock, out of his car window.

In early April 1991, 10 days after Bergsten was reported missing, vacationers found a woman’s body off the freeway. She was unidentified for a few weeks until Rogowski came forward to confess.

Figueroa writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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