BRADENTON - The loss of his neighbor and friend Janice Fore is still raw for Randolph Hepp, who testified this morning to having dinner and cake for Fore's 74th birthday the night before she was found slain in her home.
Hepp testified in the trial of Otis C. Mack, 21, who is accused of first-degree murder and burglary in Fore's death. Mack's co-defendant, Marcos Herrera, has already been sentenced to life in prison on the same charges.
Both men are accused of binding and gagging Fore with duct tape during a burglary of her Northwest Bradenton home.
The night before Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputies found Fore's body, Hepp and his wife had Fore over for a birthday celebration. The next morning he found it strange to find Fore's garage door open, he testified. Sheriff's deputies later found Fore's stolen car in a Manatee Avenue strip mall.
After giving his testimony, Hepp spoke of the pain of losing his friend of 14 years.
"I was crushed. We had her over for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She was part of the family," he said. "She was like a second mother to my wife."
Not only did Hepp lose a friend, but the peace in his neighborhood was forever shattered by her killing, he said.
"I bought a shotgun and several handguns when it happened, and when I hear the slightest noise I am not without one or more of them checking on it," he said.