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UTAH STATE PRISON — Jennifer Jasper still has moments when she wakes up in the middle of the night because she thinks she heard a knock at the door.
"It’s always so real to me, and I always get out of bed to make sure no one is there,” she said recently in tears.
When she gets to the door, no one is there. There is only the pain and nightmares from nearly 10 years ago when there was a real knock at her door at 2 a.m., and a police officer standing on the patio offering his condolences because her son was dead.
In April of 2009, Blake Strebel, 19, and his friend, roommate and co-worker Derek Jasper, 18, were driving home after a late night of playing church basketball in Ogden, when 17-year-old Mark Andrew Mora — who was trying to avoid police — sped through a red light and smashed into them. Both Strebel and Jasper were killed.
Mora was convicted as an adult and was sentenced to prison terms of one to 15 years for automobile homicide and failure to stop at the command of police officers, both second-degree felonies.
Mora's first parole hearing was held at the end of May. The full Utah Board of Pardons and Parole recently decided to set a rehearing for Mora in May of 2018. Board members want him to complete a residential substance abuse treatment program by then, as well as have an updated risk assessment evaluation.
During Mora's emotional parole hearing, family members of both Strebel and Jasper addressed board member Denise Porter. Nearly 45 minutes of the hour-long hearing was reserved for testimony from family members, all of whom were still struggling over the losses of their loved ones.
"It is very difficult for me to write down what I wanted to say today. I put it off for weeks because the pain I buried for several years is real, and I didn’t want to feel it again,” Jennifer Jasper said in a recording of the hearing. "The pain is right at the surface and anything like this just brings it all back."
Both Jasper and her daughter, Rachel Jones, asked the board to make Mora serve his full sentence.
"His behavior, actions and mentality that night showed no regard for human life,” Jones said between long pauses, as she wiped away tears.
Jones said what happened that night wasn't a traffic accident.
"Nobody accidentally plows through that intersection," she said.
Family members recalled how Jasper was anticipating an LDS mission call within a week, and Strebel was going to school at Weber State University pursuing a career in law enforcement. He, too, had plans to go on a mission.
Tim Strebel, Blake Strebel's father, told the board that he does not hate Mora and does not wish him ill will. But he wants him to do all he can to "turn a terrible situation into a positive." Since the crash, the Strebels have given over 150 presentations to high school students telling them about the dangers of drugs and irresponsible driving.
"Now is your chance to show us that Blake and Derek’s deaths were not in vain. Show us that you can build a life of goodness and compassion,” he said, directly addressing Mora.
Strebel noted that Mora has a 10-year-old son of his own.
"You be that shining example and pray to God that no one takes him or her away from you and your wife, tragically and unexpectedly as you did to us,” he said.
Susan Strebel said she, too, still struggles with the death of her son.
"I often have difficulty thinking about Blake, even though I want to," she said. "I believe I will have this pain for the rest of my life.”
The families said they would like to meet with Mora in person some day and talk to him. The Jaspers said an opportunity came up recently when Mora's girlfriend texted them and said Mora would also like to meet with them. But the Jaspers felt the timing wasn't right. At the parole hearing, Porter issued a no contact order for any member of Mora's family to contact the families of Jasper and Strebel, saying that when they are ready, they will contact him.
When it was Mora's turn to address the board, Porter noted that he had done well since being incarcerated. Despite being associated with a gang when he entered prison, he had stayed out of trouble and was no longer associated with gang members, something Porter said wasn't easy to do.
"I was young, and I felt invincible," he said of himself a decade ago. "I’m a changed man. And the only thing I can do about that is prove it."
Mora has also earned his high school diploma while in prison, completed several life skills classes, and currently prepares all the food for inmates at the Box Elder County Jail.
"At the time of the accident, I was a kid. Today I sit here as a man taking responsibility for what I did," he said. "I know what I’ve done. I know what I’ve got to do, and I know what I want to do."
Mora, who is now 26, says he wants to help other youth when he is released, as well as raise his own son. He said he will not go back to his old lifestyle. He is also thinking about writing a book.
"Life ain’t a game. When you’re young, you feel like you can do whatever you want. But you can change lives, whether it's tragic or for positive,” he said. "I never meant to hurt nobody. I just want to show them that I’m better than that, than what they put me out to be."
Porter complimented Mora for his progress thus far, but warned him that once he is released, "It is not an option for you to fail."