August 10, 1966 |
Brooklyn, New York
|Charge(s)||Assault, Rape and Murder of Jessica Bergsten on March 6, 1992|
|Penalty||31-year prison sentence 6 years for forcible rape and twenty-five years to life for the first-degree murder charges to be served consecutively.|
|Conviction status||Denied parole in 2011|
Mark "Gator" Rogowski (born August 10, 1966 in Brooklyn, New York), AKA Gator Mark Anthony, was a figurehead of professional skateboarding in the 1980s and very early 1990s. His career ended when he was convicted of assaulting, raping and murdering Jessica Bergsten on March 6, 1992. His life was chronicled in a critically acclaimed 2003 documentary titled Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator by the American filmmaker Helen Stickler.
Mark Anthony Rogowski was born in Brooklyn, New York but moved to Escondido, California at age three once his parents divorced. Rogowski was a gifted athlete, playing little league baseball in his youth. Rogowski started to skateboard at age seven. When Rogowski was ten years old, while most of his friends were into surfing, he started to hang out at skate parks. After two years of skating local parks, Rogowski was picked up by a local skate team in 1978 at age 12.
Rise to prominence
Rogowski started his professional skateboarding career in 1980 at age 14. In 1982, he won his first major contest: the Canadian Amateur Skate-boarding Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1984, he won a national championship. He had endorsement deals with Gullwing Trucks and Vision Street Wear, and his business card read: "Skateboard Extraordinairre" [sic].
Early in his career, Rogowski was being paid "between $4,000 and $8,000 a month" for clothing and skateboarding equipment endorsements. In 1987, Rogowski was earning two dollars per skate deck that was sold by Vision. Vision was moving 7000 decks per month, giving Rogowski an income of $14,000 a month (US$ 30,000 in 2013) from the sales of his board. This did not include the numerous t-shirt, berets, hip packs, and stickers that Vision was selling bearing the "Gator" name.
Rogowski was one of a group of elite skaters who enjoyed "rock star" status in the 1980s, alongside Christian Hosoi, Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero and a few others. He was a charismatic, flamboyant personality who received fame and fortune during skateboarding's return to popularity with the advent of "vert" or ramp skating, which, in some ways, was the precursor for a growing interest in extreme sports during the 1990s that has lasted to the present day.
At a 1987 skate show in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rogowski was introduced to Brandi McClain and her good friend Jessica Bergsten, an aspiring model. He soon began a tumultuous long-term relationship with McClain. Together they shared a freewheeling lifestyle, appearing together in many skate-gear advertisements and promotional videos for Rogowski's sponsor Vision Street Wear, one of the top selling skateboarding brands of the 1980s.
Rogowski's popularity began to wane as "vert" skating of the 1980s gave way to Street skating of the 1990s. Vision Skateboards, the company that he had spent the majority of his career with, had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Looking to reinvent himself, he changed his name to "Gator" Mark Anthony, explaining that "Rogowski" was the name of his father whom he had never really known. Arguably, this also contributed to his downfall, since many people began to view him as a sell-out. After a severe accident in West Germany where Rogowski either fell or was pushed from a hotel window and landed on a fence, Rogowski returned home to Carlsbad to recover. After befriending Augie Constantino, an ex-surfer turned born-again Christian who became his "spiritual advisor", Rogowski converted to a strict Evangelical form of Christianity. This influenced Rogowski's look on life and the designs on his boards. After four years of dating McClain, Rogowski suggested "we can't have sex anymore unless we get married". The surprise change of lifestyle caused McClain to break up with Rogowski, and she later moved back in with her parents in San Diego. Once McClain left Rogowski, Mark began a period of severe alcoholism.
Murder of Jessica Bergsten
After McClain left him, Rogowski became obsessively jealous: breaking into her home to steal the things he had given her, calling her new boyfriend's home with threats, and threatening McClain directly. She reported him to the police, who filed a report but did little to follow up.
On March 20, 1991, Rogowski received a call from 22 year old Jessica Bergsten (whom he had not spoken to in years), who had recently moved to California. Bergsten, a friend of ex-girlfriend Brandi McClain, asked Mark to show her around San Diego. They spent a day together, on March 21, 1991, shortly after Bergsten was reported missing. According to Rogowski, he and Bergsten went back to his condo to watch movies and drink wine. He admitted to coming up behind her and hit her in the head with a Club (a metal auto anti-theft device). After knocking her semi-unconscious by way of several strikes, he handcuffed her and dragged her to his bedroom on the second floor and raped her while shackled to his bed. Afterward, he placed her in a surfboard bag because he was concerned about the neighbors hearing the noise. He placed his hand over her mouth until she stopped breathing. He then drove out to the Shell Canyon desert to bury her body in a shallow grave.
A few weeks later her body was found but it was unable to be identified. Plagued by guilt, Rogowski confessed what he had done to Constantino. "Remember that girl from the poster? She was the one I killed," Rogowski admitted. Constantino encouraged him to confess his crime to the police - which Rogowski did, waiving his legal rights. Bergsten's body was found by campers on April 10, 1991 but had been so badly decomposed that it could not be identified. Rogowski turned himself in on April 11, 1991 and led the police to the burial site of Bergsten. The police searched his home and found evidence of blood, which had soaked through the carpet padding and into the floorboards in two small spots, adjacent to where Bergsten's head had allegedly rested. In his confession, Rogowski conveyed that he had killed Bergsten in a misplaced act of revenge towards McClain, calling Bergsten the "mold Brandi was made out of." Upon entering prison, he was diagnosed with a severe case of bipolar disorder.
Hearing, prison, and parole
Rogowski was charged with "special circumstances," committing a murder during rape. Under California law, this warrants the death penalty or life imprisonment without possibility of parole. His public defender lawyer, John Jimenez, challenged the validity and content of the confession. Jimenez appealed the rape charge, insisting that the decomposed body showed no signs of forcible rape, which was eventually thrown out.
At the advice of his attorney, Rogowski pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and rape, thus avoiding the death penalty or life without chance of parole. In January 1992, at the plea hearing, Gator submitted a four-page written statement. He accepted responsibility for his acts but also blamed himself for having sex outside of marriage, his promiscuity, and for not following the word of the Bible.
Rogowski was sentenced on March 6, 1992. Five uniformed baliffs with metal detectors were at the hearing due to a rumor that Stephen Bergsten (the father of the victim) would attempt to harm Rogowski. Bergsten had lost two properties due to his involvement with a nationwide drug ring, and there was speculation that Bergsten had nothing to lose by harming Rogowski. With the baliffs standing between Rogowski and Bergsten, Rogowski offered an apology while Bergsten shouted back that he "was a coward" and that he would "die a thousand deaths".
Rogowski was denied parole on February 7, 2011. Deputy District Attorney Richard Sachs argued that Rogowski remained an "unreasonable risk to society" and should remain imprisoned, and a family member of Jessica Bergsten attended the hearing asking that Rogowski remain incarcerated. He will not be eligible for parole until February 2018. Although initially assigned to Donovan State Prison, was relocated to the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo.
- Placed in top 5 in 1980 Vans/Offshore Amateur State Finals (California) in boys 11-13 division.
- 1st Place, Canadian Amateur Skate-boarding Championships, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1982
- 1st Place Del Mar NSA Contest, 1984
- 3rd Place in Vision Ramp N' Rage Down South, 1987
- 1st Place Vision Bluegrass Aggression Session, 1988
- Lyle E. Davis (September 13, 2007). "Cover Story: Mark "Gator" Rogowski". thecommunitypaper.com. Retrieved June 23, 2011.
- Miriam (February 9, 2011). "Mark "Gator" Rogowski, Skaterboarder: Jessica Bergsten’s Killer". pub. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- Dana Littlefield (February 8, 2011). "Skateboarding star convicted of 1991 murder denied parole". signonsandiego.com. Retrieved June 23, 2011.
- Caroline Black (February 9, 2011). "Mark "Gator" Rogowski, Former Pro Skateboarder, Denied Parole for 1992 Calif. Murder-Rape". cbsnews.com. Retrieved June 23, 2011.
- Ogunnaiake, Lola (August 21, 2003). "A Skateboard King Who Fell to Earth". New York Times. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- KGTV staff (February 7, 2011). "Parole Denied For Local Skateboarding Legend". KGTV staff. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- Johnson, Cory (1992). "Free fallin': How skateboard king Mark "Gator" Anthony was born again as a rapist and a murderer." The Village Voice, 1992-12-08 (Internet Archive copy, viewed 2011-05-02).
- Brooke, Michael (2008). The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding (2008 ed.). Paw Prints. ISBN 978-1-4395-0422-2. - Total pages: 200
- Mark Rogowski at Notable Names Database