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August 10, 1966 |
Brooklyn, New York
|Criminal charge||Assault, Rape and Murder of Jessica Bergsten on March 6, 1992|
|Criminal 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.|
|Criminal status||Denied parole in 2011, incarcerated in a California Prison.|
Mark Anthony "Gator" Rogowski (born August 10, 1966) was a prominent professional skateboarder 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 American filmmaker Helen Stickler.
Rogowski was born in Brooklyn, New York, but he moved to Escondido, California at the age of three after his parents divorced. Rogowski was a gifted athlete, playing little league baseball in his youth. Rogowski started to skateboard at age seven and, while most of his friends were into surfing, he eventually started to hang out at skate parks several years later. After two years of skating local parks, Rogowski was picked up at 12 years of age by a local skate team in 1978.
Rise to prominence
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Rogowski started his professional skateboarding career in 1980 at age 14. In 1982, he won his first major contest, the Canadian Amateur Skateboarding Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In 1984, he won a national championship. Rogowski received endorsement deals from Gullwing Trucks a Early in his career, Rogowski was being paid "between $4,000 and $8,000 a month" for clothing and skateboarding equipment endorsements. By 1987, Rogowski was earning two dollars per skate deck from Vision, which was selling 7000 decks on a monthly basis, resulting in royalties totaling US$14,000 for Rogowski (US$ 30,000 in 2016). Additionally, Vision was also selling T-shirts, berets, hip packs, and stickers using the "Gator" name.
Rogowski was one of a group of elite skaters who enjoyed significant fame in the 1980s, alongside Christian Hosoi, Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain and Steve Caballero. He was a charismatic, flamboyant personality who received fame and fortune during skateboarding's return to popularity following the success of "vert" ramp skating.
At a 1987 skate show in Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S., Rogowski was introduced to Brandi McClain and her good friend Jessica Bergsten, an aspiring model. Soon afterward, he began a tumultuous long-term relationship with McClain—they appeared together in numerous advertisements and promotional videos for Vision, which had become one of the top-selling skateboarding brands of the 1980s.
Rogowski's popularity began to wane as the vert skating that was popular in the 1980s was supplanted by street skateboarding in the 1990s. Vision, the company that he had spent the majority of his career with, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Looking to reinvent himself, Rogowski changed his name to "Gator" Mark Anthony, explaining that "Rogowski" was the name of his father whom he had never really known.
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 also became his "spiritual advisor", Rogowski converted to a strict Evangelical form of Christianity that influenced Rogowski's attitude and skateboard deck designs. After four years of dating McClain, Rogowski suggested that the couple become married, as they "can't have sex anymore unless we get married." The sudden lifestyle change led to the end of McClain's relationship with Rogowski and she returned to her parents home in San Diego, California. Rogowski began a period of severe alcoholism following McClain's departure.
Murder of Jessica Bergsten
Following the end of his relationship with McClain, Rogowski became obsessively jealous: he forcibly entered her home to steal gifts he had given her; he made threatening telephone calls to McClain's new boyfriend's home; and he also threatened McClain directly. McClain informed the police about Rogowski's behavior—the police filed a report, but the situation was not monitored continuously.
On March 20, 1991, Rogowski received a call from 22-year-old Bergsten, whom he had not spoken to in years, as she had recently moved to California. Bergsten asked Rogowski 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 hitting 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 she was shackled to his bed. Afterward, he placed her in a surfboard bag because he was concerned about the neighbors hearing the noise. Rogowski placed his hand over Bergsten's mouth until she stopped breathing and then drove the body to the Shell Canyon desert, where he disposed of the corpse in a shallow grave.
Bergsten's body was found by campers on April 10, 1991, but it was so decomposed that it could not be identified. Plagued by guilt, Rogowski informed Constantino of what he had done: "Remember that girl from the poster? She was the one I killed." Constantino encouraged Rogowski to confess his crime to the police—which Rogowski did—thereby waiving his legal rights.
Rogowski turned himself in on April 11, 1991 and led the police to the burial site where he had disposed of Bergsten's body. The police then 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, Rogowski 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, but the appeal was eventually dismissed.
Following 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, for being promiscuous, 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 he allegedly 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" who 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, while a family member of Bergsten also attended the hearing and requested that Rogowski remain incarcerated. Rogowski will not be eligible for parole again until February 2018.
Rogowski is serving his sentence in the California State Prison System.
A feature documentary that examines Mark Rogowski's trajectory, Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator, was released in 2002 by Palm Pictures. The film was written, directed and produced by Helen Stickler, and features interviews with other professional skateboarders like Tony Hawk, Kevin Staab, Lance Mountain, Ken Park, Steve Caballero, Jason Jessee, Craig Johnson, Stacey Peralta, and Rogowski himself. Since California law prohibits video interviews with prison inmates, Rogowski was interviewed over the phone for the documentary where he gave details on his life's background, his subsequent downfall, and expresses remorse for murdering Jessica Bergsten.
- Top 5 at the Vans/Offshore Amateur State Finals (California) for the boys 11-13 division, 1980
- 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