3-year prison term in Merced college rape case

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comMay 30, 2014 

Juan Rocha received a three-year prison sentence Friday, May 30, 2014, for sexually assault two Merced college students.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MERCED COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT — Merced County Sheriff’s Department

A judge criticized a convicted rapist Friday in Merced Superior Court before handing down a three-year prison term.

Juan J. Rocha, 56, received the prison term after cutting a deal with prosecutors to avoid a longer sentence in connection with the sexual assault last year of two Merced College students from Japan who were staying at his home.

Rocha pleaded no contest in February to a felony count of forcible rape and misdemeanor count of sexual battery.

Judge Marc A. Garcia characterized Rocha’s crimes as “terrifying” and “repulsive,” saying the case could make potential foreign-exchange students “fearful” of studying in Merced County.

“You shamed your family, you have shamed this community and you have, it could be argued, shamed this entire country,” Garcia told the defendant. “You have created a long-term misery that may never be resolved.”

Rocha accepted a plea deal with prosecutors Feb. 4 in exchange for reduced charges. Rocha agreed to a three-year state prison sentence and prosecutors agreed to dismiss an additional count each of felony rape and misdemeanor sexual battery.

Rocha was arrested July 22, 2013, in connection with sexually assaulting the two Japanese students, ages 18 and 20.

Before changing his plea, Rocha denied forcing himself on either woman. He told police one of the women agreed to have sex with him in exchange for $10,000, according to court records.

Testifying in December during a preliminary hearing, the 18-year-old student testified that Rocha raped her on July 10 in his home. She said she repeatedly told Rocha to stop, but he refused. She said Rocha pinned her to the ground and she was unable to escape.

The plea agreement angered the victims.

A letter from one of the victims was read in court Friday. The woman wrote that she and the other victim “did not expect something like this when we decided to study in Merced.”

“I want to tell this story and advise my younger friends who want to study in America in the future. I do not want anybody else to have such a bad experience in America,” she wrote.

The 18-year-old victim wrote that she now suffers nightmares and flashbacks as a result of Rocha’s attacks. She said her own molestation and the other victim’s rape “ruined” their lives. She said a three-year state prison term was not enough.

“I have nothing now,” she wrote. “My future was ruined, but he’ll go to jail just for three years.”

The victim’s anger over the deal surprised both the judge and Deputy District Attorney Gerald Egan, the prosecutor in the case. Egan told the judge had he known of the victim’s feelings, the three-year term would “very likely” not have been offered.

Defense attorney David Mugridge said his client believed the charges had been “a bit” trumped up. He said Rocha’s family believes the victims exaggerated the incidents, as well as the impacts on their lives.

“This was a difficult case on both sides. It was difficult for them (the victims) and difficult for his (Rocha’s) family because he did not believe it merited prison time,” Mugridge said. “Both sides gave little bit on each side and the judge felt that the sooner this could get done, the better for them.”

Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or rparsons@mercedsunstar.com.

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