Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

13 years after leaving prison, Pasco County man regains right to vote

Mark Heidrich, 57, who served time in prison on drug charges,  began trying to get his civil rights restored seven years ago.


Mark Heidrich, 57, who served time in prison on drug charges, began trying to get his civil rights restored seven years ago.

TALLAHASSEE — Mark Heidrich is a full-fledged citizen of Florida again, and he couldn't be happier.

Heidrich, 57, of New Port Richey made a serious mistake more than a decade ago and served his time. But he has been paying for it ever since he walked out of prison.

So when Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet voted to restore his civil rights, he wept in public as the years of humiliation melted away.

"I can actively be part of society again. I can be a responsible citizen," Heidrich said moments after the unanimous vote last month. "They are trusting me to do the right thing."

Heidrich was once a Pasco County funeral director and a member of the local Chamber of Commerce board who got hooked up with the wrong crowd and was caught dealing LSD and cocaine, which sent him to prison for 21/2 years.

Behind bars at low-security Madison Correctional Institution, Heidrich didn't cause any trouble. He had a prison job and his parents visited him every other weekend.

He left prison in 1998, has stayed out of trouble, and has been trying for seven years to get his civil rights restored. He works six days a week as a chef at a Beef 'O' Brady's in Port Richey (his drug conviction cost him his license as a funeral director).

Heidrich's one-man struggle for redemption illuminates the cumbersome, time-consuming and highly secretive clemency system in Florida.

Bespectacled and dressed in a dark pinstripe suit, he's the human face of the monstrous backlog of petitions from people who broke the law and paid the price, only to discover they are barred from full citizenship by law for years later.

The backlog is getting bigger again, for two reasons: a series of cuts to the Parole Commission's budget, and the decision by Scott and the Cabinet last March to eliminate a streamlined civil rights restoration process. In most cases, ex-offenders seeking full citizenship have to wait for a public hearing.

Struggling with a backlog of 95,000 pending cases, the agency is asking the Legislature for an additional $642,000 next year to hire 10 more workers.

At the current rate, with no new cases coming in, the agency would need five years to get through the backlog, Parole Commission chairwoman Tena Pate told legislators.

Heidrich had given up hope that the state would ever consider his plea, only to unexpectedly get a letter from the Florida Parole Commission telling him his case would be taken up.

"This came out of the blue. I had no idea this was going to happen," Heidrich said.

He put his frail 87-year-old mother in his Buick, and the two of them drove to Tallahassee for the Sept. 21 hearing.

"Case No. 40, Mark L. Heidrich. Mr. Heidrich is here," the clerk announced, and Heidrich nervously stepped to the lectern in the basement Cabinet room of the state Capitol.

"I made some really bad decisions in my lifetime," he began.

Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi at first appeared skeptical that Heidrich was rehabilitated.

"Governor, I would just point out that this is trafficking in cocaine and LSD, and he's only been released since '98," said Bondi, who suggested Heidrich wait a few years and reapply for citizenship.

Bondi noted that Heidrich has had two speeding tickets in the past decade.

The clemency staff told Scott that with the backlog, Heidrich's case might not come up for five more years. Inexplicably, the mood changed and Bondi extended mercy.

"Governor, I have no objection. He's stayed clean for quite a while," Bondi said.

"I move to grant restoration of civil rights," Scott said.

"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you," Heidrich said.

He's now awaiting a confirmation letter from the state, which he needs to register to vote, 13 years after leaving prison.

Heidrich credits a friend from his high school days in Fremont, Ohio, for giving him the motivation to persist. Susan Suffecool reconnected with Heidrich and urged him to keep trying to get his rights restored.

"He had pretty much given up," Suffecool said. "But if there's one guy I've ever known who deserves a second chance, it's him."

She still can't believe it took him seven years.

"I think that's an outrage," she said. "It doesn't say much about the state of Florida."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

13 years after leaving prison, Pasco County man regains right to vote 10/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 13, 2011 9:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Memorial service sparks wistful memories for daughter of slain Hillsborough deputy

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — As the somber notes of "Taps" sounded in a stiff breeze, Sherri Longway thought about her father.

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee, far left, stands with his hand over his heart along with others during the HCSO's annual Law Enforcement Memorial Service Wednesday, May 24, 2017 in the Ybor City area Tampa. Sheriff David Gee along with dignitaries and members of the sheriff's office paid tribute to members of the Sheriff's Office who have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.
  2. Editorial: Super Bowl yardsticks for bay area


    From the moment they arrive, Super Bowl fans returning to Tampa for the NFL title game in 2021 will see and experience an entirely new Tampa Bay region. Whether it's the expanded airport, the growing universities and thriving downtowns or the new entertainment destinations and incubators for business, visitors will feel …

    From the moment they arrive, Super Bowl fans returning to Tampa for the NFL title game in 2021 will see and experience an entirely new Tampa Bay region.
  3. Convicted murderer whose release Pam Bondi fears will stay behind bars

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Tampa police officer convicted in 1980 of murdering a security guard will not be released from prison after a parole hearing that Attorney General Pam Bondi said could have put her at risk.

    Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi arrives for an injunction hearing at the Hillsborough County Courthouse, Wednesday, May 17, 2017, in Tampa, regarding William Norman Wilkes, the man she alleges has been stalking her. On Wednesday, the Florida Commission on Offender Review is set to consider whether to let Charles Norman, a former Tampa police officer convicted of murder, will seek his possible release. Bondi says Norman has sent her threats. "He is a menace to society and needs to remain behind bars," Bondi said.   [Loren Elliott | Tampa Bay Times]
  4. Romano: On this education bill, you decide who is evil


    The political ramifications are not lost on Kristine Benson.

    Six-year-old Chase Benson was born with down syndrome and autism. He attends a private school in Palm Harbor through a Gardiner Scholarship. [Photo courtesy of Kris Benson]
  5. St. Petersburg police team with federal agencies to crack down on gun and drug offenders (w/video)


    ST. PETERSBURG — Police say Raymond Adams, 29, jumped a fence to break into a home in the 800 block of 51st Street Avenue S.

    Some of the guns confiscated during an eight month firearms, drug trafficking, and violent crime operation dubbed the St. Petersburg Violent Crime Reduction Initiative were on display Wednesday, 5/24/17 at the St. Petersburg Police Department.  Federal charges have been filed against 35 individuals and state charges have been filled against 9 individuals in St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times