By Marshall Hammons
San Francisco – Almost forty people wearing “Justice for Sergio” shirts filled the courtroom at a bail hearing on Wednesday. Those forty people included Sergio’s mother, cousin, brother-in-law, closest friends, his mentor, and other community members. They all came because they love, support, and believe in Sergio Rocha, and want him home where he would be best able to fight both his criminal case and physical injuries sustained during the incident for which he was later arrested for.
The hearing was held in Department 26 in front of Judge Braden C. Woods. Deputy Public Defender Elizabeth Camacho represents Mr. Rocha who is facing a possible life sentence for the charge of first degree murder. Deputy Public Defender Camacho had submitted over one hundred pages of arguments and exhibits to the Court before the hearing. She began her oral argument by playing several videos that captured the events in question and provided an explanation of what was occurring in the videos.
The videos and evidence from testimony in a prior hearing showed that Sergio Rocha was walking on the street with his friend when a group of eight people asked a coded question, intending to determine if the friend was gang-affiliated. The group then began assaulting that friend after he said he was from San Mateo. The friend was able to break away and run a short distance to where Mr. Rocha had stopped and turned around to watch what was happening. The group threw the friend on the ground right in front of Sergio Rocha, and Mr. Rocha was shoved onto the man being assaulted. Sergio Rocha was then stabbed and hit over the head with a Hennessy bottle, causing him to begin bleeding and be knocked unconscious. During the altercation, one of the eight other people was also stabbed, though it is unclear who stabbed that member of the group. There is no video or other evidence indicating Mr. Rocha or his friend had a knife during the fight. The group then had one of their youngest members drive the stabbed-group member to the hospital and the rest fled the scene. Sergio Rocha was left for dead on the street. The identities of the people in this group are mostly unknown, and the police have not arrested any of them in connection with this incident. While in custody, Sergio Rocha had six surgeries for his knife wound.
Deputy Public Defender Camacho then played an incredibly moving video created by Silicon Valley Debug that helped explain Sergio Rocha’s life, his peacefulness, and how he would have the support of his friends and family to ensure he made it to every court date, meeting, or any other requirements the Court wished to put as a condition of release.
The video began with his friends and family describing how family-focused Mr. Rocha is. They stated he was always doing everything he could to help his daughter, cousins, and elderly family members. Mr. Rocha is known within his community as being a great father and a loving person overall. He made sure that there was always a gathering of people for special occasions, such as birthdays and graduations.
Sergio Rocha’s friend, fighting tears, explained how Mr. Rocha never missed a day of work and was always performing above and beyond. Sergio Rocha’s mentor then agreed, adding that Mr. Rocha had a passion for cars and was always working hard to learn more.
The video then showed Sergio Rocha’s mother and cousin tearfully recounting when they heard that Sergio Rocha had been stabbed and was in the hospital. His cousin had to pick his mother up from work and drive to the hospital. They worried that Sergio Rocha was going to pass away.
Finally, the video concluded with his family and friends explaining in detail how each and every one of them would make sure Sergio Rocha showed up to court and other meetings. They explained who would use a car on which days, who would be able to bring him to where, and that all of them were working together to make sure he was where he was supposed to be.
Deputy Public Defender Camacho then argued that Mr. Rocha was not a danger to the community. He had no convictions for violent crimes, and the convictions he did have were for a DUI. Furthermore, the allegedly violent crimes the Assistant District Attorney had said Mr. Rocha was arrested for, but not convicted of, were all dismissed, indicating they were not supported by evidence. Deputy Public Defender Camacho argued that not only was Mr. Rocha not a danger to society, but all the people in the courtroom were there to make sure he was at every hearing or meeting for the case.
Assistant District Attorney, Omead Talai, was not as compassionate to the accused. During the video and Deputy Public Defender Camacho’s argument, he appeared he could not care less—he was slumped over his table, hand on his forehead, looking at anything but the video. In response to Deputy Public Defender Camacho’s argument, he said he his responsive would be brief. Assistant District Attorney Talai claimed that the defense’s reading of the facts were either misleading or plain wrong, but offered absolutely nothing to show how or why. He then argued that Mr. Rocha was a flight risk because he was being charged with a possible life sentence. Furthermore, Assistant District Attorney Talai said Mr. Rocha had a warrant at some point.
Assistant District Attorney Talai tried to argue that Mr. Rocha was a danger to society because of some issues he had had in the past. However, when Assistant District Attorney Talai tried to bring up charges that occurred during Mr. Rocha’s childhood, Deputy Public Defender Camacho objected that doing so was outside the scope of admissibility. The prosecutor then went on to list the arrests and other charges Mr. Rocha had been involved in, but again, none included convictions for violent crimes. In fact, the arrests for crimes are violent were later dismissed, again indicating a lack of evidence.
Assistant District Attorney Talai then went on to claim that he did not want to “march the family [of the deceased] in to say how tragic things are.” The prosecutor said that the family had told someone in his office that their lives had been changed since the death of their family member. The Assistant District Attorney did not use any actual evidence to support his claim, however.
Deputy Public Defender Camacho then was given time to rebut the prosecutor’s arguments. She summarized her previous points about Mr. Rocha’s peacefulness, and that he was will show up to court. She asked that he be released from custody with conditions that the Court might find appropriate, such as ankle monitoring or periodic check-ins.
Judge Woods said that given the volume of the arguments and the seriousness of the charges that he would need more time to make his ruling.