How Skateboard King Mark “Gator” Anthony Was Born Again As a Rapist and Murderer
While he awaited trial, Mark “Gator” Anthony’s cell in the San Diego County jail lay at the foot of a hill in Vista, California. At the very top of that hill, four-and-a-half miles up from the jail, was the rundown skateboard park where Gator had his last ride, MacGill’s Skatepark. There, a handful of teenagers skated the ramps, rolling in and out, doing flips, handstands, board slides, ollies … and every once in a while, some daring kid would attempt a “lean 360.” It’s a notoriously difficult move, in which the skater tries to get enough momentum and height to fly vertically out of the bowl with his body almost perpendicular to the ground, spin around once completely, and then land where he’d taken off, inside the bowl, but this time rolling backward toward the bottom.
That move was called the “Gait-air,” named for its originator, the man who sat in the jail at the bottom of the hill. For years Gator was skateboarding’s biggest star. When he first started skating, 15 years ago, his moves were so creative, so aggressive, so — there’s no other word for it — radical, that he was able to turn pro at the tender age of 14. By the time he was 17, he was making $100,000 a year.
To skateboarders everywhere, he was a hero. He boasted of being a roving ambassador, telling skating magazines how he was going to turn the whole non-skating world on to the sport. He and his beautiful live-in girlfriend, Brandi McClain, were the skateboarding couple: they starred in skating videos together, they worked as models together, they even appeared together in a Tom Petty video. Gator gave tips to beginners in Sports Illustrated for Kids. There was a Gator clothing line, Gator skate boards, Gator videos. “I had it all,” he says today, sitting in his prison cell. “I had different cars, a big house on an estate, even girls — I had the prettiest, most popular, hah, most voluptuous, most unscrupulous girls. I say that I ‘had a girl.’ I once considered girls a possession. That’s crazy.”
Crazy or sick. Because despite all he had, on March 20, 1991, Gator beat twenty-one-year-old Jessica Bergsten over the head with a steering-wheel lock called the Club and raped her for nearly three hours. Then he strangled her in a surfboard bag and buried her naked in the desert 100 miles away.
There were no witnesses, no one heard her screams, and the murder weapon was never found. Yet something drove Gator to confess his crime.
This is the story of the rise and fall of Mark “Gator” Anthony.
Skateboarding, like other California phenomena such as surfing and savings-and-loan scams, had a tremendous surge in popularity in the 1980s. Skateboard parks were erected across the planet. Skateboard manufacturers became multimillion-dollar companies branching out into clothing, sneakers, even movies. Crude videos were slapped together featuring the latest moves by top skaters, and they sold by the thousands. The National Skateboarding Association was sponsoring contests all over North America, Europe, and Japan, and first-prize money reached $5,000 to $7,000 per event.
All this was fueled by a handful of San Diego County teenagers who had become the sport’s superstars, and Gator was one of them. Born Mark Anthony Rogowski in Brooklyn, he moved with his mother and older brother to San Diego at age three, following his parents’ divorce. They ended up in Escondido, a sun baked, middle-class suburb in northern San Diego County. Classic Reagan country, with surfers, malls, churches, and loads of disaffected middle-class youth, it was there that Gator, at age 7, discovered skating.
“I grew up without a father from day one,” Gator told Thrasher magazine interviewer M.Fo in 1987, “and my brother kinda filled that gap. He was a bitchin’ influence on me. He made me a good baseball player and an athlete in general. What was cool was that he was stoked that I was skating, too. Skating was somewhat deviant.”
By 1977, Gator, 10, was skating regularly, but because he didn’t have as much money as his friends he didn’t quite fit in. “I was a social outcast back then,” he told Thrasher. “My fellow skater friends were all hyped on the surf thing — who had what board, the newest O.P.’s, and who had a Hang Ten shirt. Then there I was, running around in Toughskins, y’know … They were all wrapped up in the fashion and those types of superficial interests, they ended up fading out and I fucking lasted.”
Gator got his chops down at a local skatepark’s half-pipes, moguls, and pool in the shape of a bra dubbed “the 42D Bowl.” And he found a new set of skating friends. “These guys were so into it, having such a good time, sweatin’ and laughin’ and crackin’ jokes and just snakin’ each other. It was a full soul session, everybody was just shralpin’ it up. When they went into the bowl, their expressions changed to a ‘going into battle’ expression, going for it, no holds barred. When they popped out of the bowl, they’d get a smile on their faces and yelp and chime. It was hot.”
An obvious talent, young Gator was picked up by the skatepark team and began winning local contests. Bigger sponsors followed, and in 1982 he won the Canadian Amateur Skateboarding Championships in Vancouver, his first major title. With his green eyes and dark, lean good looks, charming personality, and aggressively physical skating style, he rose to the top rank of the sport.
Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi rounded out the triumvirate of 1980’s skating superstars. “That was a great time for us,” says Hawk, who has been called the Wayne Gretzky of skating. “We were making a ton of money, we flew all over the world, there were skating groupies at every stop. It was pretty cool to see a bunch of guys from San Diego County at the center of this huge thing. No doubt, we were stoked.”
The primary vehicle for the wealth of pro skaters was skateboard sales, and Gator was one of the hottest tickets in that market too. A Gator skate “deck” — the board (decorated with his nickname rendered in an op art vortex or pastel quasi-African design), sans wheels and suspension system — would sell for up to $50, of which Gator would receive $2. At their peak, monthly sales of the Gator board reached seven thousand, earning him an easy $14,000. But the cash didn’t end there; he also had his contest winnings and lent his name to a slew of products made by Vision Sport, a skateboard merchandising company. There were Gator shirts, berets, hip packs, videos, stickers, posters — it seemed kids couldn’t get enough of him.
“Gator, Gator, Gator … every issue of Thrasher had Gator doing something,” says Perry Gladstone, who owns FL (formerly Fishlips), a skateboarding company near San Diego. “He was always a part of everything. There were Gator stories, Gator spreads, full-page Gator ads — he was a hero to us. We’d read about their parties, the girls … you’ve gotta understand, top skaters were like rock stars, traveling all over the world, living the life … and Gator was the wildest of them all.”
Wild for sure, as Gator himself indicated in the ’87 Thrasher interview, when he talked about the rush he got from riding walls at 90 degrees, and “on the left side of the picture there’s a bum with a bottle or a junkie with a needle hangin’ out of his arm,” and on the right side there’s a skater “sweatin’ it out and cussin’ at the wall and — Bam! — fucking forging reality, pushing his body up the wall.” One of the benefits of this, said Gator, was that “it’s a real productive way of venting some way harsh aggressions. Instead of breaking a bottle and slashing some body’s face, you’re throwing yourself at a wall with sweat dripping in your eyes.”
Gator boasted to friends that while touring the South he would walk into liquor stores and 7-Elevens stark naked, rob them, then get drunk in the cornfields while police helicopters searched for him overhead.
On another of those wild tour dates, in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1987, Gator, then 21, met two beautiful 17-year old blondes from rich families, Jessica Bergsten and Brandi McClain. Brandi and Gator partied that entire weekend, which wasn’t unusual considering the groupies who awaited him in every town. But Brandi was different. Soon he was flying her to San Diego to visit him, and a few months later, she left Tucson for good and moved in with Gator.
He had bought a ranch in the mountains near Tony Hawk’s new ranch, which he’d equipped with a whole series of wooden skating ramps. But Brandi became bored with the ranch and few months later Gator sold it. They moved to a condominium in the upscale beachside community of Carlsbad, one block away from the ocean.
Gator and Brandi were inseparable. They caroused all night in Carlsbad bars, made the scene at all the San Diego parties. They were the hottest couple on the beach. “We would get high every night,” says Brandi. “We wouldn’t do coke every night, but we’d do bong hits, we’d go to the Sand Bar at the end of his street, and get fucked up. Then we’d hang out in his Jacuzzi, get drunk off our asses, and go in and have wild sex all night.”
Gator spared no expense on Brandi. So that she could join him at competitions, “he flew her to Brazil and Europe,” says Gator’s brother Matt Rogowski. “He bought her two cars. She was a gold digger, but when they were together, they were absolutely in love and you could see it.” The couple did modeling jobs together. Brandi appeared in Gator’s videos, and when he appeared in Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” video, she was in it too.
If he was a celebrity in southern California, in Carlsbad, the unofficial skateboarding capital of the world, he was a megastar. Surfboard shops would just give him all the equipment h wanted, skaters would ask for his autograph or Gator stickers t put on their boards. Despite his ardor for Brandi, when he was alone he’d walk up to beautiful women on the beach, say, “Hi I’m Gator,” and instantly have their undivided attention. With his looks, youth, and arrogance born of money and fame, in the holy land of skateboarding, Gator was his own god.
But while Gator was getting fat and happy cashing in on his skateboarding fame, by the late eighties a new, hipper type of skateboarding was challenging the dominance of his genre. It was called street skating, where skaters opted for urban obstacles like curbs, garbage cans, and stairways over the traditional skate board parks. Street skaters wore their pants around the knees, eschewed protective pads and helmets and counted on frequent run-ins with the police. Characterized by the sound of boards smacking against the pavement, it was louder, more dangerous, decidedly anti-establishment and, therefore, more appealing to the kids. Vertical ramp skating techniques, of which Gator was the master, were rapidly becoming obsolete. Vision, the company that sponsored Gator and dozens of other top skaters, was about to file Chapter 11.
“He was really worried about becoming a dinosaur,” says Perry Gladstone, to whom Gator confided. “This was an entirely new type of skating. It was rad, more amped, and all the kids wanted to be a part of it. But except for Tony Hawk, none of the old pros could really skate both vert and street, and Gator was stressed out about it.” Gator himself once told M.Fo just how stressed out he would get if he had to quit skating. “I’d probably have some suicidal tendencies. I’d feel low, cheap. I’d feel like nothing. I couldn’t exist … no way, I’d kill myself. Lose my spirit, I’d float away and my carcass would get buried.”
Gator was still trying to milk vert skating for all he could. He talked to his family about marrying Brandi and settling down. Then, in October 1989, after a competition in West Germany, the party animal in Gator reared up and bit him. In typical Gator fashion, he spent the night getting sloshed, wandering from party to party. The accident that ensued is a skateboarding legend — a drunken Gator, partying with a bunch of other skaters, leapt out of a second-story window, convinced that he could fly.
Although Gator himself doesn’t remember what happened, some of his friends say that he was actually trying to sneak back into his hotel after hours by crawling up a terrace. Whatever the cause, the result nearly killed him. He landed on a wrought-iron fence, impaling his neck, face, and thumb. He survived and was patched up in Germany, but upon returning home he spent months in San Diego with plastic surgeons trying to save his modeling career.
The Gator who emerged from the San Diego hospital shocked his friends and admirers. He looked the same, but he sounded completely different. “Jesus Christ spoke to me through that accident,” said Gator. “I was a blind dude, but now I can see.” Gator had been born again.
Augie Constantino takes the credit for Gator’s metamorphosis. A skateboarder and former professional surfer who lived just two blocks from Gator and Brandi, Constantino had suffered an accident similar to Gator’s four years earlier. “I was in Hawaii out drinking with some other pro surfers,” says Constantino. “After leaving the party, me and a friend of mine were playing chicken when he hit me head on, doing 45 miles per hour. I guess I lost.” The quadriceps in his right leg were severed, ending his pro surfing career. But Constantino decided that it was a message from God, and that he should devote his life to Christ.
Thus was born the man known as “the skateboard minister.” In his stonewashed jeans, cowboy boots, and bolero jacket, he stands out from his fellow Calvary Chapel parishioners. He’s built like a fireplug, wears a goatee, and has one eye slightly askew — a result of his accident. “I met Mark just before he left for Germany,” says Constantino from the office he keeps in the back of the church. He’s vague about his official role at the church, where, he says, he is “a lay minister” who runs a youth hotline, but he adds that officially he is a church custodian.
“I introduced Mark to a personal God, a God the father,” says Constantino. “Mark never had a father to speak of. I showed Christ to him and as the Bible says, He’s our own true father. So of course that appealed to Mark.” It was around this time that Gator started calling himself Mark Anthony instead of Mark Anthony Rogowski, because, as he later said, “I didn’t want to be associated with my father at all.”
When Gator’s wounds healed, he joined Constantino. He started covering his boards with religious symbols and preaching to skaters, surfers, and anyone else who would listen about his “secret friend,” Jesus. Witt Rowlett, owner of Witt’s Carlsbad Pipelines, the premier surf shop in Carlsbad, says that everyone was amazed. “I believe in the Lord, don’t get me wrong,” says Rowlett. “But Mark was just fanatic. Everything he said was ‘Jesus this, the Bible that.’ He was way into it.”
Others, however, dismissed it as typical behavior from Gator. “Yeah, he was fanatic, but that’s just it, he was fanatic about everything,” says Gladstone. “That was just Gator.”
But Brandi would have none of it. Gator dragged her along to Calvary Chapel a few times, but she wasn’t ready for the party to end. “We literally had sex five times a day, we were so in love,” says Brandi. “Then he met Augie and started saying, ‘We can’t have sex anymore unless we get married.’ And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. We’ve been going out for four years, having mad sex for four years, and we can’t have sex anymore? I can’t deal with this. Later.’ ”
Brandi moved in with her mother and stepfather, who had recently moved to San Diego.
“Mark was devastated,” says Constantino. “I think that it upset him even more than his accident in Germany. Look, here’s an exact explanation of what happened to her.” He reaches for his “sword” — a well-thumbed, red Bible on his bookshelf.
“First Peter, Chapter 4, Verse 3. ‘Then, you lived in license and debauchery, drunkenness, revelry, and tippling, and the forbidden worship of idols. Now, when you no longer plunge with them into all this reckless dissipation, they cannot understand it.’ ” He shuts the Bible with a thump. “There. You see? Brandi just didn’t get it. Mark had found a new life in Christ.”
Despite his newfound devotion to Jesus, Gator’s response to Brandi’s leaving was decidedly un-Christian, particularly after she started seeing one of the guys she surfed with. Gator started calling her mother’s house, leaving messages on the answering machine. “Mark was crazy,” says Brandi. “He was calling me up leaving all these freaky messages. He’d growl. ‘You bitch! You cunt! You’re gonna fry in hell from your toes!’ Weird shit like that.”
One night, Brandi came home to find that someone had broken into her house through her window, taking everything that Gator had ever given her. Brandi and the police suspected Gator.
“He took it all back, including the car,” says Terry Jensen, an investigator from the San Diego County district attorney’s office, to whom Brandi later recounted the story. “It’s kind of like a typical young teenage stunt. That’s what you do when you’re 15, 16 years old and you lose your first girlfriend. You want all your money back, every necklace, every ring. You know, ‘Give me my high school jacket and my class ring because we’re not going steady anymore.’ Well, that’s what he did.”
Brandi still hoped they might reconcile. On one such attempt, she invited Gator to take her out to dinner. But they started arguing as soon as they pulled out of her parents’ driveway. “He was still so mad about the guy I was seeing,” says Brandi. “He’s the one that told me to go out and find one of my surfer friends to party with. So I did! I found this hot little blond surfer guy, 6-1.
“And Mark was furious. He was driving out in the middle of this nowhere road out where my parents live when he turned to me with this really scary, serious look in his eye. His voice got all deep and, you know, he sounded like the devil. He says, ‘You know what? I should take you out to the desert right now. I should drive you out right in the middle of the night and beat the shit out of you and leave you there. And I would get away with it, because everybody would know that you deserved it.’
“I started crying and begging him to take me home right now. I’m like, ‘My mother knows where I am.’ And he took me back.”
Brandi was scared enough to flee to New York, not telling anyone but her family where she was going. She didn’t even tell her best friend Jessica in Tucson about the incident, so when Jessica showed up in San Diego a few weeks later, she called Gator asking him to show her the sights.
“Everything that I hated about Brandi, I hated about Jessica,” Gator would later tell the police. “She was of the same mold that Brandi was made of.” He told the police that he blamed Jessica for his breakup. Jessica, of course, had no idea about any of this.
Like Brandi, Jessica was tall, blond, and beautiful, and her friends remember her as tough, savvy, and adventurous. “She was an incredibly intelligent, free-spirited girl,” recalls Brandi. “She wanted to have fun and nothing else mattered. We would go to Mexico together, and she would, say, get so drunk that she would leave me there. If I couldn’t get into bars — because we were under age and had fake IDs — she would leave me outside for three hours waiting while she drank.
“But we were best friends. We were very much alive. It was, like, quick, we’re going to have the very best lives, and we’re going to have them now.”
On Wednesday, March 20, Jessica and Gator had lunch at an Italian restaurant in La Jolla, then returned to his condo with some movies and a few bottles of wine. As she was getting ready to leave, Gator went to his car, ostensibly to see if his driver’s license was there.
Waiting in his living room, Jessica looked at the picture on his mantel, where Gator proudly displayed his favorite picture — a shot of him skydiving, facing the camera, screaming at the top of his lungs while plummeting to earth. As she stared at the picture, Gator snuck up behind her, hitting her two or three times in the head and face with the metal steering-wheel lock. She fell to the floor, blood gushing from her head, so much so that it soaked right through the carpet. He handcuffed her and carried her upstairs to his bedroom. There, he shackled her onto the bed, cut her clothes off with scissors, and raped her for two or three hours.
Jessica, still conscious, begged him to stop, occasionally screaming. In an attempt to shut her up, he pulled a surfboard bag from his closet and stuffed her inside it. She screamed that she couldn’t breathe. He clasped his hands around her neck and strangled her.
Gator flipped over his mattress to hide the blood that was there, then put Jessica’s body, her cut-up clothing, the bag, the handcuffs, and the Club in the trunk of his car. He drove for two hours into the desert, pulled off the highway at a desolate place called Shell Canyon, and buried her naked body in a shallow grave. As he drove back to Carlsbad, he tossed her bloodstained clothes, his sheets, and the club out the window. On his way back to the condo, he rented a carpet steamer, and cleaned out every spot of blood he could from the rug. When police came to question him about her disappearance a couple of weeks later, there was no evidence to be found.
THE POSTER AT 7-ELEVEN
Jessica’s father, Stephen Bergsten, a Tucson lawyer, had enough to worry about without his daughter disappearing. One of his clients was under investigation by an Arizona drug task force, while rumors were rife that he himself was being investigated for money laundering. But when his daughter stopped calling soon after leaving for southern California, the panicked father, unsatisfied by efforts of the San Diego police, flew to San Diego to find her himself.
He plastered the entire county with posters that read MISSING PERSON with a picture of a grinning Jessica, her vital statistics (5-8, 115 pounds, blond hair, blue eyes, fair complexion), and the telephone numbers for the San Diego police department. He talked to her friends, he even met with Gator to ask about her whereabouts. Gator shook his hand and told him, No, he didn’t know where Jessica was. Bergsten’s efforts were to no avail. There were no other witnesses to her disappearance. Two months went by without any leads.
But one of the posters stayed plastered up next to a phone booth at a 7-Eleven two blocks from Gator’s condo. Next to the beach, with a pizza shop next door, the convenience store is a favorite hangout for young Carlsbad surfers and skateboarders. It was also a favorite place for Constantino and Gator to preach their message of Christianity to young kids hanging out. For Constantino, he was terrific bait for young skaters willing to listen to just about anything to meet Gator.
“One night at the 7-Eleven,” remembers Constantino, “Gator and I were witnessing and I saw this young girl with what they call a miniskirt — I call them towels. I said to her, ‘Go and put some clothes on and when you come back, I’d like to talk to you about Christ.’ And she said, ‘I’ve got nothing to worry about, I’ve got no problems.’ I pointed to the poster. ‘What about that girl?’ I said. ‘She had nothing to worry about. But where is she now? She could have been involved in drugs, pornography. Maybe she’s dead.’ The girl just ignored us and jumped into a car. But I got a strange reaction out of Mark. He was just kind of blank, silent.”
Seeing the picture of Jessica, and seeing it in the presence of Constantino, was too much for Gator. One night, after a Bible study at Constantino’s house, Gator returned to the house with tears streaming down his face. “I was getting ready for bed when I answered the door,” recalls Constantino. “He was crying and said he was Judas Iscariot. We both sat and cried. We prayed for about an hour, asking God what we should do. About a week later he came to me and said, ‘Remember that girl in the poster? She was the one I killed!’”
Constantino remembers what he told Gator as he drove him to the police department in the early morning of May 5. “I said to him, ‘Mark, you don’t need a lawyer. You don’t need innocent until-proven-guilty. What do you need a lawyer for, if you answer to a higher power? If a person is accountable to God, then he’s accountable to society — the Bible says that.”
Constantino scoffs at the idea that perhaps his legal advice wasn’t the best. Nor does he think it was unethical for him, as a minister, to turn in someone confessing to him. “Mark didn’t come to me as a minister, he came to me as a friend. Anyway, I’m not an ordained minister. He knew exactly what was going to happen.”
The police were astonished that someone was turning himself in for a murder that they didn’t even know had happened. Jessica’s body had been found in the desert by some campers on April 10, but the body was so badly decomposed that it could not be identified. The next morning Gator led detectives to where he’d buried the body. Uncuffed, standing under the hot desert sun, Gator watched as they dug around for more evidence, photographed the site, and talked to the local police.
When the police announced Gator’s confession, the press jumped all over it. It was the lead story in the local papers, local television ran nightly updates as the case unfolded, and on national TV, Hard Copy did a “dramatic reenactment” of the rape, murder, and subsequent confession. The initial reaction of the skateboarding world’s street wing was best expressed by Koby Newell, a 15-year-old who skated with Anthony at Carlsbad. “He was getting old,” Newell told the San Diego Union, “but he was keeping up with the moves.”
Skating’s more established wing reacted with a bit more shock. Perry Gladstone had just signed Gator to endorse a new line of skateboards for Fishlips, which ironically featured a takeoff on the 7-Eleven logo. “I came home the night he confessed to find 87 messages on my answering machine. They were all reporters wanting me to talk about Gator. My wife and I were with him two or three days every week for months setting this deal up. He was such a great guy, I just couldn’t believe it.”
The violent, anti-authority image of skateboarding — symbolized in Thrasher magazine’s old motto “Skate or Die” — combined with the sex and bondage aspects of the murder, fed the press’s sensationalist treatment of the story. One of the many videos Gator did with Brandi was called Psycho Skate, which fed the frenzy even more. Skateboarders felt that the coverage was turning into an indictment of their sport, not just Gator. “It’s likely the skateboarding world will be placed under a microscope in the media,” warned Thrasher. “Let’s just hope that we can all remain strong.”
He became a cause célèbre in San Diego County. Kids decorated their jeans jackets with the phrase Free Mark Anthony. But there were also bumper stickers that read Skateboarding Is Not a Crime — Murder Is. Mark Anthony Should Die. Skateboarders who talked to the press about it were ostracized. “It was a terrible event for skateboarding,” says Gladstone. “Skating’s no more inherently violent than heavy metal is inherently satanic. But people in the media tried to make it seem as if skating is a threat to the youth of America. I think you’ll find that most skaters won’t even talk about Gator.”
The police continued to compile evidence in case Gator decided to plead not guilty to a murder charge. They found the bloodstains under Gator’s carpet, and a carpet-cleaner receipt (Gator’s accountant had instructed him to save all his receipts). Gator was charged with “special circumstances,” committing a murder during rape, which under California law can warrant the death penalty or life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
Unable to get a lawyer, he was appointed a public defender, self-described “glory seeker” John Jimenez, a short, stocky former PTA president who drives a Harley-Davidson. After taking the case, Jimenez immediately challenged the validity of the confession, saying that Gator’s minister had no right to turn him in. Jimenez appealed the rape charge, insisting that the decomposed body could show no signs of forcible rape. Although he never denied that Gator had killed Jessica, he suggested that it was her own fault. He told a reporter that Jessica was a “slut,” claiming to have a long list of people with whom she’d had sadomasochistic sex, including the entire University of Arizona basketball team and a handful of pros — their names, however, were off the record. “Hey,” says Jimenez, “it’s like Sam Kinison said, some girls just turn Mr. Hand into Mr. Fist.”
At the time these remarks were made, the San Diego Metropolitan Homicide Task Force was investigating the murders of forty-four women whose bodies had been dumped in isolated places around the county since 1985.
Eventually, when the higher court refused to toss out the rape charge, on Jimenez’s advice Gator pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and rape, thus avoiding the death penalty or life without chance of parole. At the January 1992 hearing in which he entered his plea, Gator submitted a remarkable four-page written statement that hinted at the struggle going on in his mind before his crime, during its commission, and afterward. In the statement he admitted that although his original confession “was directed by the Lord,” in the subsequent eight months he had been “tempted to dodge responsibility, deceiving myself as well as others.” But now, at last, “I’ve been led to a full, true repentance, having nothing to hide. Thank God.”
Finally able to express “my regret and my sorrow over our loss of Jessica,” Gator tried to explain why he’d done what he did. “Two months prior to the incident,” he wrote, “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. It’s no exaggeration to say I became completely enslaved to these devious mental images and inescapable thoughts …
“Essentially, I became a victim first, because I turned my back on God in several ways, thinking I could get through it on my own power.”
Slave, victim, but still expressing regret and “without deferring the blame for my actions,” Gator targeted three things that influenced his state of mind:
“Firstly, sex outside of marriage, i.e. promiscuity, premarital sex and cohabitation, the disease of jealousy, and the unhealthy obsession that so often attaches to these.
“Secondly, pornography and its addictive character. Ranging from risqué public advertising, all the way to hardcore S&M, this dehumanizing of women and men and its dulling of the senses occurs at all levels. Porn is a consuming beast …
“Thirdly, closing the ears and heart to God’s counsel, including partial or non-repentance and disobeying and ignoring the Bible … So people, we must realize, without reduction, the gripping strength and deceptive subtlety of sin! What will it take for us to examine ourselves and listen? The tragedy of an innocent young woman’s death? The fall of your favorite celebrity? O.K., perhaps the imprisonment of your best friend or relative?…
“I know the Lord forgave me 2000 years ago on the cross at Calvary. And although I attempt to forgive myself daily,” wrote Gator, the struggle over his ultimate culpability still raging in his head, “I haven’t quite been able and may never be able to do so.”
Gator’s sentencing took place on March 6. It was quite a spectacle for a suburban courtroom. Five uniformed bailiffs used a hand-held metal detector to screen each observer. They had received information that Stephen Bergsten, who would attend the hearing with his wife, Kay, was going to try to harm Gator. Eight months earlier Bergsten had been indicted, along with 44 others, as part of a nationwide drug ring. With his property in two states seized by the government and his daughter brutally murdered, there was speculation that he had nothing left to lose by killing Gator.
With the bailiffs standing between Bergsten and Gator, the skater offered a solemn apology to Jessica’s family, asking them to forgive him. “God has changed me, and it was no typical jailhouse conversion,” pleaded Gator. “I sincerely hope that they can accept my apology for my carelessness.”
“Carelessness?” Bergsten shouted. “He is a child-murderer and child-rapist. He is evil incarnate.” Gator, along with many others in the courtroom, cried as Bergsten continued in an angry 20-minute monologue. “Cowards die a thousand times and he will die a thousand deaths,” Bergsten shouted, his voice breaking. “He raped her and raped her and raped her and then thought, ‘Let’s kill her.’ We couldn’t say goodbye 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.” He glared directly at Gator and said in a firm voice. “I told you — and you remember, Rogowski — what would happen if anyone hurt my daughter. 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.”
Shortly thereafter, Superior Court judge Thomas J. Whelan sentenced Gator to consecutive terms of six years for forcible rape and twenty-five years to life for first-degree murder. Gator will not be eligible for parole until 2010 at the earliest.
Jimenez says that Gator “took some shit” when he was first put in the San Diego County jail. But one night soon after he was incarcerated, inmates crowded around a television to hear Gator’s story on Hard Copy. “After that,” says Jimenez, “I guess they thought he was a heavy dude, because the rest of the population has kept their distance ever since.”
Gator is trying to surround himself with other born-again Christians in jail. He is appealing his sentence, and has been placed in a medical facility (for manic depression).
Augie Constantino is continuing his studies to be a minister, while cleaning up the Calvary Chapel. He still preaches to surfers and skaters in the San Diego area working with a group called Skaters for Christ.
Stephen Bergsten’s money-laundering charges were dismissed two months ago in Tucson.
Brandi lives in a penthouse apartment on the Upper East Side, working as a flower arranger.
Jessica’s remains were buried in a family plot in Georgia.
MY SUBMISSION TO HER WILES
Those who visit Gator in prison are struck at first by how truly repentant he seems, sitting in his cell in a loose-fitting navy-blue jumpsuit with SD JAIL stamped on the back, his once wild long hair now shorn and carefully combed, as he talks about his fall from grace.
“I had been exposed to pornography since I was a little boy, three years old,” he says. “In what form? In the form of sex, actual sex with people. I’m not going to say who, but with people in my childhood. First let me say that it wasn’t only incest. I don’t want to mention family members, of course, because I want to protect them. But let me put more emphasis on the fact that it was babysitters and older neighborhood kids.”
Has it occurred to him that if he was the victim of sexual crime as a child, he might have a propensity to carry out such crimes as an adult? “If you believe that it was a revenge killing and that it was prompted by Brandi, I would say yes,” he replies, and suddenly you’re listening to a dramatically different Gator than the one at whose sentencing a Catholic priest testified, “Never before have I encountered a person so clearly open about his responsibility.” You’re listening to a man skating away from the idea that the murder was really his fault.
“I did lay upon her with a steering lock at one point, but that was part of the S&M,” he says. “The fact is that it wasn’t rape. It was more like an involuntary manslaughter. If it weren’t for my submission to her wiles and the temptation of having such sex with her … ”
Gator takes a deep breath, sighs, then continues. “I don’t want to defame Jessica at all. I’m very, very sorry about what happened to her. I just want to make it known that I was led into a sexual situation that I didn’t want to have anything to do with.
“I wouldn’t have submitted if I didn’t have some weakness, some background desire. You can go down the street to Coronet bookstore in Oceanside and buy a vast array of S&M bondage magazines, pictorials, descriptive pictorials, paperbacks that are step by step about how to lynch somebody sexually. It’s pretty sick. I got a lot of ideas.
“That night, I didn’t realize what kind of a purring feline she was. It’s really hard for me to say these things about Jessica, we lost her and I don’t feel good about that. I just want to make it known that I was led into a sexual situation that I didn’t want to have anything to do with. I was scared I’d be discovered with this wayward woman.
“There were a lot of kids in my neighborhood, my protégés in skateboarding who would have Bible studies with me. I was being an example to these impressionable kids. For them to see me with this woman and all that had been going on — the wine bottles, the cigarettes upstairs — it would have been devastating. In my attempt to quiet her, in her intoxicated and belligerent state, I had put my hand over her mouth to quiet her for a second so I could hear the voices and the footsteps coming up my walkway. She must have suffocated or had a seizure or a stroke or something. The next thing I knew, I look down and she’s not breathing and not moving.”
Mark “Gator” Anthony, who has finally broken up and out of the half-pipe of his guilt, will be forty-three years old before he is eligible for parole. He says he doesn’t think he’ll ever ride a skateboard again, but hopes that someday he’ll be free so he can learn to fly a kite. ❖
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 23, 2020