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Skateboarder Pleads Guilty to Murder : Justice: Mark (Gator) Anthony pleads guilty to rape, strangulation of young woman found buried in the desert.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mark (Gator) Anthony, a former national skateboard champion, pleaded guilty Friday to first-degree murder and forcible rape in the death of a 22-year-old woman in his Carlsbad condominium last March.

Under a plea bargain, Anthony, 25, could be sentenced to 33 years to life in prison for hitting Jessica Bergsten, handcuffing and raping her for three hours, stuffing her into a surfboard cover, strangling her and then burying the body in the desert in Imperial County desert.

In a handwritten message, Anthony apologized to his victim’s family and friends and attributed his acts to the evils of “promiscuity,” “jealousy,” “pornography” and “closing (my) ears and heart to God’s counsel.”

Anthony wrote: “Two months prior to the incedent (sic), I found myself in the midst of some surprisingly strange and almost uncontrollable feelings. All at once the plague of vile visions and wicked imaginations and the daily battle to suppress them was overwhelming. . . . I figured this was far too ‘weird’ to talk to anyone about or seek help.

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“Obviously I lost the battle when I acted out unexpectedly,” he wrote. “The sad result was our loss of Jessica Bergsten, who deserved much, much better and who never wronged me in any way.”

Judge J. Morgan Lester is scheduled to sentence Anthony on Feb. 28 in his Vista courtroom. The plea bargain was disclosed on the day Anthony’s trial was to begin.

Anthony surrendered to police last May and confessed to bringing Bergsten to his home, assaulting and slaying her and burying her off Interstate 8. Anthony led police to the burial site, where the girl’s body had been found earlier by a man and his son, who notified Imperial County authorities.

John Jimenez, the public defender representing Anthony, said the guilty plea to first-degree murder was a requirement of the plea-bargain agreement but that Anthony had not committed premeditated murder.

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“He was saying that she died at his hands. He is taking responsibility for his actions,” Jimenez said.

In the plea-bargain agreement, two counts of use of a deadly weapon and the addition of special circumstances to the murder charge--which could have brought life without parole--were dismissed.

If the sentences for first-degree murder and forcible rape are served concurrently, Anthony could be freed on parole in 17 or 18 years, according to Jimenez. “He can look forward to his freedom while he is still a relatively young man,” the defense attorney said.

However, Deputy Dist. Atty. Greg Walden said he would seek the maximum sentences on the counts of murder and rape, and would argue that the sentences should run consecutively.

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“These were two separate and distinct crimes,” Walden told the court. “This was a willful, deliberate and premeditated murder. The rape was a separate act.”

Jimenez said that Anthony had been diagnosed as manic-depressive and is taking lithium and other drugs for his condi tion.

Anthony, who had changed his last name from Rogowski, was ranked as one of the top five skateboarders in the world in 1988 and made national tours, starred in skateboard videos and earned money for endorsing skateboards, sporting equipment and clothing.

When he gave himself up to police, he told investigators that he had recently become a “reborn” Christian and had limited his skateboarding to “demonstrations for church charities.”

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The victim, Bergsten, had moved from her home in Tucson to Pacific Beach only a few days before she was murdered. The 5-foot-8 blonde hoped to become a model and had asked Anthony, the former boyfriend of one of Bergsten’s friends, to help her with introductions into the fashion industry.

Prosecutor Walden contends that one week before killing Bergsten on March 20, Anthony went looking for his former girlfriend, intending to kill her. Unable to find his ex-girlfriend, Walden said, Anthony killed Bergsten as a substitute.

In his handwritten statement released Friday, Anthony did not mention his ex-girlfriend but did point to “sex outside of marraige i.e. promiscuity, premarital sex and cohabitation, the disease of jealousy, and the unhealthy obsession that so often attaches to these” as one factor that “led to this tragedy.”

Pornography also contributed, Anthony wrote.

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“Smut becomes food for thought, then fuel for action, equivalent to the most entrapping of drugs,” Anthony wrote.

“When I first came forward I didn’t know exactly why, only that I needed to,” Anthony went on. “Now I know that whether behind prison walls or flying free on a skateboard, my life will be devoted to teaching young people and adults alike how to avoid similar disasters.”

In the court chambers, Anthony’s mother, Maxine Rogowski, family members and a covey of teen-age fans sat quietly but were visibly shaken as they listened to Anthony plead guilty in a low voice to rape and murder.

“We had to come,” one teen-age girl explained. “It may be the last chance we’ll ever have to see him.”

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