WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court Tuesday rejected multiple challenges by an Arizona death-row inmate to his conviction for the 1992 murders of four people, including three who were killed in a Phoenix trailer-park “homicidal rampage.”
Pete Carl Rogovich, 46, confessed to the killings and other crimes when caught by police on March 15, 1992, after a lengthy car chase, according to court documents.
“I did it. I know it was wrong. I know I’ll burn in hell,” Rogovich reportedly told police.
He presented an insanity defense, but was convicted of all counts by an Arizona jury in a seven-day trial in May 1994.
In his latest round of appeals, Rogovich argued that his attorney at trial presented the insanity defense without his approval. He also claimed that his attorney failed to challenge prejudicial prosecution statements during closing arguments or to challenge the aggravating factors that led to the imposition of death penalty.
But a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals flatly rejected those arguments Tuesday, saying there is no law “requiring the defendant to consent on the record to an insanity defense.” It also upheld lower court rulings that Rogovich was adequately represented at trial.
“Of course we’re disappointed” by the decision, said Sarah Stone, Rogovich’s lawyer for his appeal. “He’s a seriously mentally ill person.”
She said there is no question that he committed the crimes, since he never denied his actions. “The question is whether the punishment (a death sentence) is appropriate,” she said.
“We think a life sentence is best for Mr. Rogovich, given his mental condition,” she said.
Prosecutors could not be reached for comment on the ruling Tuesday.
The case began on the morning of March 15, 1992, when a customer walked in to the Super Stop Market near Rogovich’s central Phoenix apartment at 8:45 a.m. and found clerk Tekleberhan Manna, 24, dead, shot once in the eye at close range. No money or goods had been taken from the store, court documents said.
Rogovich, who had told an apartment maintenance worker that morning that he was angry with his girlfriend and would get even with her, left his apartment about 1 p.m. that day with a gun and began firing randomly. After shooting at two people in the parking lot and missing, he hopped the fence to a neighboring trailer park and began what courts described as a “homicidal rampage.”
Rogovich shot Phyllis Mancuso, 62, in the laundry room; Rebecca Carreon, 48, in her driveway; and Marie Pendergast, 83, in her trailer. All three women died as Rogovich ran off.
Some time later, he stole a radio station’s van at gunpoint from a promotional appearance at a restaurant. He was later seen at a convenience store in Goodyear, where he stole beer and cash before “casually” walking out and driving off in the van.
Goodyear police spotted him about 5 p.m. and caught Rogovich after a “lengthy chase at speeds ranging from 50 to over 100 miles per hour.”
Rogovich admitted to all the crimes, including all four killings, but said he was upset by the breakup with his girlfriend and the death of his stepfather six years earlier.
“Of course I’m sorry. It was wrong,” he said, according to the court. “I know it, but I just snapped. I was so angry. I just couldn’t stop.”
Despite his insanity defense he was convicted in 1994 of all charges against him: four murders, two aggravated assaults, two armed robberies and unlawful flight.
At his sentencing a year later, his attorneys presented evidence of an abusive childhood, mental illness and drug dependencies. But the court sentenced him to death for the trailer-park killings and life in prison for Manna’s death.
Stone said Tuesday that Rogovich’s attorneys have not decided what step to take next in the case.