Man with a life sentence for raping a 69-year-old East Naples woman twice wants a new trial

Rachel Heimann Mercader
Naples Daily News
Mario Rosales Trejo in 2007
  • A man spending life in prison for the 2005 brutal rape and murder of a 69-year-old East Naples woman is asking for his sentence to be reduced.
  • Mario Rosales-Trejo, 47, says his public defender did not warn him that his chances at prevailing at a first-degree murder jury trial were non-existent when he rejected a plea offer in 2012.
  • Last month an evidentiary hearing on the motion for post-conviction relief held in Collier County ended in the recusal of Judge Ramiro Manalich.

A man spending life in prison for the 2005 brutal rape and murder of a 69-year-old East Naples woman is asking for his sentence to be reduced. 

Mario Rosales-Trejo, 47, says his public defender did not warn him that his chances at prevailing at a first-degree murder jury trial were non-existent when he rejected a plea offer in 2012. 

The first time Rosales-Trejo broke into Lois Messer's home, she said she believed it might be her grandson at first. But it wasn't, and she was raped for hours, later saying she tried to "play dead," remaining motionless until he left. He also stole three rings and three necklaces valued at $1,500. 

Archive:Trial begins of man accused more than 10 years ago of raping woman twice

Eight days later he returned to do it again. A report by a Collier County Sheriff's Office investigator called the attacks "extremely violent" and detectives have said the second rape was more brutal than the first.

The woman was badly injured and was taken by ambulance to Naples Community Hospital. One month later, Messer died of injuries prosecutors tied to a urinary tract infection she contracted after the rapes.

Rosales-Trejo was arrested after he attempted to break into her house on Van Buren Avenue, off Bayshore Drive a third time a month later and was taken down by CCSO deputies who were staking out the woman’s home, waiting for him to try again.

Physical and DNA evidence, including Marlboro cigarette butts smoked by Rosales-Trejo at the scene and bloodstained shorts of Messer’s found at his home, left no doubt that Rosales-Trejo was the perpetrator, prosecutors said at the time.

After his trial for first-degree murder, jurors found Rosales-Trejo guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter. The then 39-year-old also was found guilty of two counts of sexual battery with a deadly weapon or great force, two counts of burglary with battery and assault, and one count of theft.

He received a life sentence. 

Judge recuses himself

Mario Roberto Rosales-Trejo watches as the jury exits after handing down a guilty verdict in his rape and murder trial on on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, in East Naples.

Last month an evidentiary hearing on the motion for post-conviction relief held in Collier County ended in the recusal of Judge Ramiro Manalich. "All I can tell you is that Judge Manalich recused himself because he is a friend of a former defense attorney in this case, John McGowan, who is now a county judge," Adam Oosterbaan, Rosales-Trejo's lawyer said in an email to the Naples Daily News. 

Manalich is the second judge to recuse himself in a case that dominated the victim's family's lives for a decade by various holdups, including changes in defense lawyers, a judge rejecting a plea agreement and Rosales-Trejo spending time in a state mental health hospital.

Archive: 7-year-old rape, murder case on hold again for competency test

The delay left Deborah Alkire, Messer's daughter, and her family frustrated and yearning for an end to what they described as a drawn-out nightmare. In 2012 Alkire told the Naples Daily News that "nothing short of him getting the chair would be enough for me."

She gave a victim statement in June 2015 at the sentencing hearing describing her mother as being full of life and a "gentlewoman that was abused, bruised and broken physically as well as spiritually."

She pleaded for justice, asking for "the strongest punishment that he can possibly be subject to."

Alkire directed her attention to Rosales-Trejo and told him that she was a woman of God and therefore forgives him as a person, but "in no way do I forgive the senseless sexual attack, with extreme brutality you so brazenly afflicted on my mother, not once, but twice with your apprehension, concluded upon a third time you broke into her home."

Alkire could not be reached by phone on Tuesday. 

Mario Roberto Rosales Trejo, listens at the Collier County Courthouse Monday, May 18, 2015 in Naples, Fla. Jury selection and opening statements were conducted in the Trejo case. Mario Roberto Rosales Trejo is accused of raping an East Naples woman twice in 2005, causing injuries that led to her death. The case has been delayed several years because Rosales Trejo has been in and out of state hospitals due to competency issues. He's charged with first-degree murder.

Three years prior, Judge Fred Hardt was asked to disqualify himself by public defenders McGowan and Nico Vitale after the judge rejected a 30-year plea agreement offer the State's Attorney's Office extended after consulting the family of the victim, saying "it was not even close to enough time for what he did to the victim."

However, Rosales-Trejo would later reject a second plea agreement offer of 40 years, and proceed to a jury trial. He now says that he would never have gone to trial if he had been adequately warned about the weak nature of his defense strategy. 

Melissa Sherman, a long-time public defender now a private defense attorney in Fort Myers, says that when granted, post-conviction relief motions usually result in a new trial. But she says the likelihood of the Court granting it is slim.  

"He’s going to have to prove he would have taken it, but since the plea offer was discussed on the record according to his motion, he had ample opportunity to take the plea offer," Sherman said. "It’s not a situation where the plea offer was never communicated to him – it’s just that he argues that he didn’t realize he was unlikely to win his trial...

"I doubt his attorney didn’t advise him on the strength of the case at all but that’s what we’ll find out at the hearing."