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Free Mark Berrios-Life Without Parole for Killing His Predator At 14 Years Old

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Floridian, Mark Berrios, was 14 when he shot and killed his predator, Olen Hepler. Mark had run away and was picked up by Hepler who then took him in. That crucial day would seal both of their fates. Hepler was very kind to Mark that first week. As a grooming tactic Hepler was buying him expensive things, convincing Mark that nobody cared about him but Hepler, telling him he could stay at his house and he would enroll Mark in school, and filling him with alcohol. After that week everything changed. Mark came to realize that he had met a monster. Hepler started molesting Mark. At 14 years old Mark was raped. Not understanding what was happening and not knowing where or who to turn to, Mark made a reflexive decision and killed Hepler with Hepler's own gun. Mark then drove Hepler's vehicle back to Jacksonville. Mark Berrios was arrested for the murder of Olen Hepler. Mark was beside himself. He never denied murdering Hepler. Not only was he a victim of Hepler's abuse, now he would become a victim of our judicial system. Instead of taking a plea deal of 19 years he opted for a trial. He didn't understand what he did wrong. He thought he had the right to protect himself. He believed self defense was legal. He wondered if he did something wrong and he wasn't being told what it was. He believed a trial was the best decision because the truth would be heard. He believed in the judicial system. He believed in himself. At 15 Mark Berrios was sentenced to life in prison without parole, the innocence of his youth taken once again. This time, forever.

Mark has been in prison for 23 years. Mark's initial public defender didn't introduce pertinent information such as evidence of Hepler's previous victims. Hepler was also said to have been involved with sex trafficking and pedophilia activities. Olen Hepler had a history of sexually abusing children going back 30 years. "The judge in his case didn't allow Berrios' molestation claims at trial. Nor was the jury told about Hepler, a suspected pedophile whose attorney later attested to horrific sex crimes he says Hepler admitted committing against other young boys. An affidavit signed by Hepler's attorney after his death said he'd claimed to belong to a pedophile ring that committed sexual torture and even murder." Olen Hepler was the definition of pure evil and Mark Berrios would be made to pay for Hepler's deviance.

Mark Berrios' actions were impulsive, impetuous and unpremeditated. Not only did Mark believe he was doing the right thing by protecting himself but he lacked the discipline to govern his actions. This was the deciding factor that caused Mark Berrios to kill Olen Hepler. What most people don't realize is that both, physiologically and psychologically, in many cases the adolescent brain can not control impulse. It simply does not have the capability to do so. The pre-frontal cortex of a child's brain is not fully mature until the age of 20. According to The Teenage Brain: Self Control, "The circuitry in the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not fully connected in the adolescent brain. Another theory is that adolescent decisions and actions are not solely due a less mature prefrontal cortex, but rather to a tension within neural circuitry involving the ventral striatum, implicated in reward processing, and the prefrontal cortex implicated in control processing. Authors, Casey and Caudle, did their own study and found that adolescents have comparable or even better impulse control than some adults in neutral contexts. However, in emotional contexts, adolescents’ impulse control ability is severely taxed relative to children and adults. Your chances of death from putting yourself in harm’s way will increase by 200% relative to your childhood." Statistically, for a parent, this is terrifying and begs the question, why are parents not being made aware of these findings?

Please take into account the immaturity and lack of self control in an adolescent's brain and the terror and the lack of understanding as to why this was happening to him when Mark impulsively killed Olen Hepler. Yes he committed a terrible act. No, it wasn't the answer to his problem but Mark simply lacked the capability of good judgement in such dire circumstances at such a young age. Mark Berrios deserves immediate release from incarceration. He has spent all of his adult life in prison for a reflexive act which was out of his mastery. He has paid for his actions and deserves a chance at a life. A life that will never be normal, after all he's been through, but with help he can create a good life. A life he deserves. A chance he was never given.



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