Rarely do you see a court case in which jurors are brought to tears in anguish by the end decision. But that's exactly what happened in the murder case involving a young Wisconsin teen.
After decades, one man was finally tried for killing beautiful Wisconsin girl Berit Beck.
What would the jury decide: Did the right man stand trial or is the murderer still out there walking the streets, free to kill again?
It's been more than 25 years since Berit Beck was traveling to a computer training class a couple hours away from home. On the way she stopped at McDonald's and Walgreens. The young blonde never made it to class.
Two days later, on July 19, 1990, her van was found in a Fond du Lac shopping mall parking lot locked from the outside, with no sign of her keys. The radar detector and CB radio had been stolen. Almost 500 miles had been put on the odometer. And inside police discovered a Burger King cup, cigarette ashes, a cigarette cellophane wrapper, Beck's Walgreens purchases, and nine unidentified fingerprints.
The frantic search was on to find Berit Beck. Then after almost six weeks, a devastating discovery: Beck's body was found in a Fond du Lac County ditch, badly decomposed. She had been blindfolded. An autopsy determined she had been strangled and suffocated.
Sheriff's deputies soon identified a suspect: A convicted bank robber and car thief named Craig Hron. He was staying at a motel near the mall at the time of Beck's disappearance. Deputies issued a search warrant, stating Hron "is very capable of murder" and "he is more than likely involved with it."
Hron was never arrested for killing Berit Beck. No physical evidence ever linked him to her death. The case went cold.
Then two years ago, a bombshell. Deputies get a hit on the fingerprints found in Beck's van. They matched 61-year-old Dennis Brantner, a welder and former long-haul truck driver from Kenosha, Wisconsin. Brantner's fingerprints were found on the Burger King cup, cellophane cigarette wrapper, a few other items, and an internal window.
"When I have physical evidence inside of a vehicle that a young lady was in prior to her abduction and maybe at the time of her death, I would call that a suspect, I would call that a prime suspect," said Fond du Lac County Sheriff Mylan "Mick" Fink.
Investigators brought Brantner in for questioning and he broke down in tears: "I don't know. My problem is I don't remember," Brantner said. "If I did it, I did it. If I did it, I don't know."
When Brantner was 21, he was arrested for stealing a woman's underwear from her hotel room, leaving a note saying he would return them if he could perform a sexual act on her. A year before Berit Beck was murdered, Brantner was arrested for breaking into an unoccupied house so he could stalk his first ex-wife. While at that house, he drove the homeowner's car, putting 923 miles on it, littering it with cigarette ashes. And four years after Beck's murder, Brantner was arrested again, this time for unlawful restraint and battery against his second wife. He had hid in her car, threatened her at knifepoint to get in, and made her drive to another location, where he kept her against her will for hours.
For that, Brantner spent two years in prison.
The prosecutor noted in the last case: "If this defendant gets out, we will have a homicide on our hands."
And another piece of circumstantial evidence: One of Brantner's coworkers told police Brantner had a photo of a blonde woman believed to be Berit Beck in his toolbox.
"I can tell you this, that we're going to go forward and I hope there's going to be a charge, I hope he's going to be arrested," said Sheriff Fink.
Branter was arrested. A year later the case went to trial.
"Draw the conclusion from the evidence, what the facts prove beyond a reasonable doubt. He killed Berit Beck," said Fond du Lac, Wisconsin Deputy District Attorney Dennis Krueger.
"They never crossed paths, never in the same area, total strangers," said Brantner's attorney, Craig Powell.
"What I'm asking you to do is find Dennis Brantner guilty of first-degree intentional homicide," said Krueger.
After two and a half days of deliberations, the jury sent a note to the judge: "We cannot agree on guilty or not guilty." And with that, a mistrial was declared. Reportedly, the jury was split 11 to convict, one to acquit.
Despite a mistrial, Brantner did not walk a free man. At the time of his arrest, cops found prescription pills hidden in his boot. He was eventually convicted of drug possession and sentenced to six years in prison and 11 years extended supervision, and seven years' probation.
Craig Hron, the first prime suspect, has been sentenced to 25 years for attempted murder first-degree murder in a knife attack on an ex-girlfriend.
The prosecution has decided to retry the case against Brantner.
"The questions aren't answered yet," said Diane Beck, Berit's mother. Berit's family holds out hope that one day justice will be served.
UPDATE Jan. 23, 2017:
Dennis Brantner, 63, will be re-tried in connection with the death of 18-year-old Berit Beck, WITI-TV reports. Brantner had been serving time in a drug case.