For the first time since his life sentence was reduced to 30 years in prison, we're hearing from the Jacksonville man who killed the man he said molested him as a teenager.
Action News Jax investigator Paige Kelton sat down with Mark Berrios in prison where he hopes his own redemption inspires other abuse survivors to find the strength to speak up. It's a story you'll see only on Action News Jax.
Paige Kelton: "What was Mark Berrios like?”
Mark Berrios: “He was a troubled teenager, he was lost."
At 15, Berrios ran away from a 30-day juvenile program and ended up on the Daytona Beach boardwalk.
That's where he met Olen Lee Hepler, who offered help and refuge in his home,
Kelton: "When did you realize that maybe that had been a mistake?”
Berrios: “Almost immediately."
Kelton: "What can you tell me about any of your time there?”
Berrios: “Horrible, violent, painful."
Over the next week, Berrios said 47-year-old Hepler repeatedly molested him. The abuse stopped on an August day in 1994.
Kelton: "What did you do?
Berrios: “I grabbed a gun.”
Kelton: “Did you shoot him?”
Berrios: “I did."
But Berrios admits he held back information from prosecutors, telling them Hepler had only tried to molest him. Fear and embarrassment led him to hide the truth.
"I'm a 15-year-old boy. Fifteen-year-old boys don't talk about things like that. But if anybody would have came and said, ‘Listen, this doesn’t sound right. What really happened?’ I would have told them," Berrios said.
Evidence of Hepler’s suspected pedophilia involving dozens of boys was not allowed in court. Berrios was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life with no parole.
But a U.S. Supreme Court ruling brought a second chance. Action News Jax was there at Berrios’ resentencing, when that chance became reality.
After hearing from family and even one of Hepler’s other victims, prosecutors offered 30 years with time served.
"Now, as the weeks and months go on, I can feel the excitement, I can feel the … it’s like a weight lifting off my shoulders. I can live," Hepler said.
With his family’s support and forgiveness from Hepler’s brother, Berrios hopes the lessons of his life, will inspire other young men to find their own voice, and ultimately, their way home.
Kelton: "What would you say to 14-year-old Mark Berrios, the Mark Berrios who kept getting into trouble and running away and pushing help away, what would you say?”
Berrios: “Go home."
Berrios will finally find his way home seven years from now. After three decades in prison, Berrios admits getting people to see past the fact that he killed a man won't be easy.
He'll start his new life with a promise to never let himself or anyone else down again.
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