By Rick Sallinger
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (CBS4) – Twenty years after an armed robbery in Aurora and an unlikely prison term, two men who were at opposite ends of a gun have come face to face.
The case of Rene Lima-Marin created national headlines. He was sentenced to 98 years in prison after his arrest for the armed robbery of an Blockbuster video store Sept. 13, 1998.
He was then released nine decades early by mistake. He married and started a new life. The paperwork error was discovered six years later and he was sent back behind bars. A judge ruled to incarcerate him again was wrong. Lima-Marin eventually was pardoned by Colorado’s governor. After winning an immigration court case he was finally set free.
But for one victim of his crime, it has been painful to watch.
When finally released in March, Lima-Marin wanted to say something important to the victim of that robbery, in person. He told CBS 4 then: “I apologized over and over again obviously I am not able to do it face to face, I’m sorry.”
But there was resistance from the victim. Blockbuster employee Jason Kasperek was held up at gunpoint in the robbery.
“He hasn’t changed at all. There’s no reason for him to be getting out,” Kasperek said at the time Lima-Marin was set free.
CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger asked the newly freed man: “If I could get you two guys face to face would you do it?”
Lima-Marin responded, “I’m not sure he would want it.”
But after a suggestion from Sallinger, each agreed to go through a Colorado state program called Restorative Justice that lasted several months. Specialists Lynn Lee and Melissa Westover acted as facilitators and met with the men individually before reaching the conclusion they were ready to sit down together. The key moment had finally arrived.
In an Arapahoe County library meeting room recently an obviously nervous Kasperek walked in to the much calmer Lima-Marin. Each held out a hand and made introductions. No exchange of names was really necessary.
For the past 20 years Kasperek has been haunted by that video store robbery where he was the clerk.
Lima-Marin sat down and was quick to express regret “I apologize for what I did to you I understand now it was a horrible thing, a horrible horrible thing, and I wish that I could take it back,” he said.
He explained he was just 18 then and only wanted money. It led to a prison sentence of nearly 100 years. Kasperek responded by saying the incident left him with a “life sentence” of nightmares.
“Even that 98 year sentence was shorter than what I am going to have,” Kasperek said, referring to what his nights are like.
“I still see it. I still wake up in the middle of the night with the gun to my head,” he said with emotion in his voice.
He said he recalls Lima-Marin hitting him in head with the rifle and threatening his life, but that brought a quick negative reply.
“You said I hit the barrel and hit you with the weapon. I never did those things to you,” Lima-Marin said.
The memories, real or not, created lasting questions.
“You’ve been pardoned. You can’t get in any more trouble at all. I want to know if that gun was loaded,” Kasperek asked.
“The gun was not loaded, never there was never an intention of hurting anyone,” Lima-Marin answered.
That was a long time ago, and Lima-Marin insists the man holding that gun then was the not the same man sitting across from the victim today, at least spiritually.
“It was going to prison that pushed me toward the Lord,” he said.
Kasperek was skeptical.
“In my eyes you used to the Lord to get yourself out, so you could sit there and say ‘Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, I’m such a great guy.'”
“Even that 98 year sentence was shorter than what I am going to have. I’m glad you can sit there and say what happened changed you and helped you,” Kasperek said with tears looking into the eyes of Lima-Marin, who then challenged his conception.
“None of that was a game, none of that was a joke none of that was me playing the system. It’s who I am,” Lima-Marin said.
It took a while, in fact hours, but somewhere along the way that afternoon he became convinced, saying “I am glad that my misery changed your life.”
To that Lima-Marin replied: “I am sorry that it happened that way and didn’t want this for you or for anyone.”
The two facilitators and the Restorative Justice program made this come together.
Kasperek now told the man who once held a gun to him: “This will help me, so thank you to be able to come and say you are sorry.”
The pain each has suffered seemed to evaporate.
The two men who once were robber and victim now embraced, with Lima-Marin telling Kasperek, “I’m sorry bud, I’m sorry bud, do you hear me?”
A postscript: Kasperek told Lima-Marin he would like to attend his church to see him speak. The two men have now become friends on Facebook.
Michael Clifton was also convicted and sentenced to 98 years for the robbery. He has now petitioned the court to be set free, too.