Mario Rocha was becoming a cause. Susan Koch, a documentary filmmaker from Cabin John, was in California working on a documentary about the juvenile justice system when she heard about the case and decided to make a film about Rocha.
"Everyone knew he was innocent. That was the amazing thing," she said. "Guards at the prison. Everyone."
But Rocha's attorneys spent years fighting against "the inertia of a conviction," said Ian Graham, a lawyer who worked on the appeal. A judge took 1 1/2 years before denying the first petition to release him. The attorneys had failed to prove Rocha's defense was so deficient at trial as to change its outcome.
A state appeals court disagreed and ordered that a hearing be held to consider the new evidence. The Latham lawyers argued their case for 10 days in fall 2003. Ten months later, a judge again ruled against Rocha.
A scene from "Mario's Story," an award-winning documentary released in 2006 by Koch and co-director Jeff Werner, shows the Latham lawyers calling Rocha on speakerphone to break the news. They are prepared to console him. Instead, he consoles them.