Passionate Plea for No Mercy : Courts: At the sentencing of a former skateboarding star convicted of killing a young woman, the victim’s father vents his anguish and anger over her brutal murder. Mark (Gator) Anthony won’t be eligible for parole until 2010.
On the day of his sentencing Friday, Mark (Gator) Anthony once again solemnly apologized for the brutal rape and murder of a 21-year-old Pacific Beach woman. But the victim’s father would have none of it.
In a plea so passionate that it brought even veteran court-watchers to tears, Steven Bergsten implored a Vista judge to show no mercy for the former skateboarding star, calling him a “piece of filth” and “evil incarnate.” The judge sentenced Anthony to a term that will keep him in prison until at least 2010.
Calling Anthony a “child rapist and a child murderer,” Bergsten visibly trembled as he said he hoped the thin-jawed man in a blue jail jumpsuit would encounter in prison the same vicious degradation he had brought upon Bergsten’s daughter, Jessica.
“Cowards die a thousand times . . . and he will die a thousand deaths,” Bergsten shouted, his voice breaking, as he told a stilled courtroom that neither he nor his son were able to say their last goodbys to Jessica, whose body was found last year in a shallow grave in Imperial County.
He pointed angrily toward Anthony, who sat sobbing in the jury box, his head bowed, his hands handcuffed behind him.
“He raped her and raped her and raped her and then thought, ‘Let’s kill her,’ ” Bergsten said. “We couldn’t say goodby to Jessica because that filth left her with nothing but a piece of skin, left her for the coyotes and the goddamned birds to eat her.”
Shortly after Bergsten’s 20-minute monologue, Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan sentenced Anthony to consecutive terms of six years for forcible rape and 25 years to life for first-degree murder, adding that “no amount of punishment is ever going to relieve the obvious pain suffered by these parents.”
With time already served and good behavior credits, Anthony would be eligible for parole in 2010.
The sentence represented another tragic turn in the life of the former skateboarding phenomenon, who once earned more than $120,000 annually for pulling parking lot stunts.
In 1988, Anthony was ranked as one of the top five skateboarders in the world, making national tours, starring in skateboarding videos. He was described by a friend as “a guy who had money and made his own rules.”
But, several years ago, Anthony suddenly dropped from prominence. Friends say the time was also marked by his decision to become a born-again Christian and his breakup with longtime girlfriend Brandi McClain.
His eventual anger toward McClain, according to Anthony’s probation report, led him to focus on her best friend, Jessica Bergsten, for what he believed was her role in the breakup and for what he suspected was her loose lifestyle.
“He stated that Jessica was the ‘mold that Brandi was made of.’ . . . It was basically Brandi with a different body but the same personality and everything,” the report read. It quoted him as saying: “ ‘Everything that I hated about Brandi, I hated about Jessica.’ ”
In arguing for consecutive sentences, prosecutor Greg Waldon told the court that Bergsten’s rape and murder were separate, premeditated crimes. Anthony’s court-appointed attorney, John Jimenez, had argued that the two crimes were parts of one act.
On the night of March 20, 1991, only 10 days after Jessica Bergsten had moved to California from her native Tucson, Ariz., Anthony picked Bergsten up at her Pacific Beach apartment and took her to dinner. After watching movies and drinking wine at his Carlsbad condominium, prosecutors say, Anthony struck the woman over the head with a steel car-locking device.
Over the next several hours, they say, he repeatedly raped the woman after cutting off her clothes with scissors and handcuffing her to a bed in an upstairs bedroom--all while she begged to be released.
After placing her in his surfboard bag, Anthony later strangled Bergsten because he was afraid neighbors would hear her cries.
According to the probation report, he told police: “I compressed my hand over her mouth through the surfboard bag so she couldn’t breathe any more, and I’m pretty sure she died right about then.”
The following day, after renting a carpet cleaner to remove bloodstains from his carpet, Anthony stuffed the nude body into the trunk of his car and drove to an isolated spot in Imperial County, where he scratched out a shallow grave.
Several weeks later, after having “wicked dreams” about the killing and consulting with a local minister, he walked into San Diego police headquarters and confessed to the crime.
Later, however, Anthony recanted most of his confession, saying that it was Bergsten who was the sexual aggressor, and that he hit her only after she expressed her desire for sadomasochistic sex.
Speaking to the judge, Jessica’s mother, Kay Bergsten, said that she has not lived a day without reliving the crime in her mind. “Every day I have these pictures in my mind about how he killed her and strangled her,” she said.
“I know in my heart that he hurt her. I only hope to God that she was unconscious, but I know that he hurt her.”
Moments before, Anthony had asked Bergsten’s parents to accept his apologies, saying he had since undergone a “thorough, genuine change of character” and now wants to help others in order to atone for his sins.
“I sincerely hope that they can accept my apology for my carelessness,” he said. “God has changed me, and it was no typical jailhouse conversion. No family deserves to have a daughter taken from them. I never wanted Jessica to die, and I am deeply sorry.”
Because his client is a diagnosed manic-depressive, defense attorney Jimenez has asked that Anthony be allowed to begin his sentence in the psychiatric unit at a state prison in San Luis Obispo. He said he would appeal the sentence.
During nearly a year in jail, he said, Anthony has received about 200 letters from friends and supporters he met on the skateboarding circuit. Jimenez has also received movie offers for Anthony’s story and has heard from a Catholic priest who visited him in jail.
“Never,” the priest wrote, “have I before encountered a person who was so clearly open about his responsibility in regards to his situation.”
Anthony also said Friday that he forgave prosecutor Waldon for unkind statements he made and said he considered Waldon like a brother--a comment the prosecutor seized upon in his closing remarks.
“In order for us to be brothers, we both have to be human, and what he did was anything but human,” he said, chastising Anthony for requesting the court’s mercy in his sentencing.
“It’s ironic that he’s asking for mercy. What mercy did he show Jessica Bergsten when he had her handcuffed in that bedroom, after making her suffer all night?”
Security inside the courtroom was tightened after court officials received information that the dead woman’s incensed father might try to harm Anthony, whose brother, mother and two aunts were also present.
In a precaution unusual for the suburban courthouse, five uniformed bailiffs used a hand-held metal detector to screen each observer. During the 40-minute hearing, they positioned themselves between Bergsten and Anthony.
But the dead woman’s father used only his voice and his pain to attack Anthony and hush the packed courtroom. His voice breaking, he described how he had questioned Anthony after his daughter’s disappearance.
“I looked into his eyes and shook his hand and never saw such evil in my life, such callousness and uncaring,” he said.
Then he turned to Anthony, who had changed his name from Rogowski: “I told you--and you remember, Rogowski--what would happen if anyone hurt my daughter.”
As the judge nodded, Bergsten added: “He says he’s undergone a religious conversion. Judge, you must have heard that same story 100 times. If he underwent a religious conversion, it was to evil, degradation, filth and satanism.”
Bergsten described his daughter as a “bright young woman who came to California to open a little flower shop” and how he has since visited her apartment. “She was so excited about that apartment,” he said. “She was here only 10 days when this filth took her life.”
On the day of her burial, Bergsten said, a butterfly lighted on his arm.
“As I talked with my son that day, I told him that that butterfly was Jessica’s spirit, that like a butterfly, she was only on this earth a short time but brought so much beauty and happiness.”