Court denies appeal for man convicted in Berit Beck death

Dennis Brantner appealed his conviction of 2nd Degree Reckless Homicide, arguing it was in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause.
Dennis Brantner. Photo: Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
Dennis Brantner. Photo: Wisconsin Department of Corrections.(Wisconsin DOC)
Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 12:17 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - A Wisconsin appeals court has upheld a homicide conviction for the man found guilty in the 1990 slaying of Berit Beck in Fond du Lac County.

Dennis Brantner appealed his conviction of 2nd Degree Reckless Homicide, arguing it was in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause.

Brantner was first brought to trial on a charge of 1st Degree Intentional Homicide, but it ended with a mistrial. The Fond du Lac County District Attorney tried the case again. Brantner avoided trial by entering an Alford plea to a lesser charge of 2nd-Degree Reckless Homicide. An Alford plea happens when the defendant does not admit guilt but admits a judge or jury could find the defendant guilty at trial.

Brantner appealed, claiming his “conviction for 2nd Degree Reckless Homicide should be vacated and he should be granted a judgment of acquittal because the evidence presented during his jury trial was insufficient to allow the jury to conclude [he] had committed the offense of 1st Degree Intentional Homicide.”

“Brantner is mistaken,” reads the ruling from the District II Court of Appeals. The court says long-established case law states “double jeopardy does not prohibit the continued prosecution of a defendant after a mistrial [is] declared on a hung jury even if the trial evidence was insufficient.” His conviction was upheld.

In 2018, Brantner was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the death of 18-year-old Berit Beck. A 10-year sentence is the maximum for 2nd Degree Reckless Homicide.

On July 17, 1990, Beck disappeared while driving to Appleton from her home in Southern Wisconsin. Her van was found in a Fond du Lac parking lot and body was later found in a ditch near Waupun.

The Fond du Lac County District Attorney tells Action 2 News there was no conclusive cause of death.

The case went cold for 25 years until investigators identified evidence they say ties Brantner to the crime. Two fingerprints were found on Berit Beck’s van, and one fingerprint was found on an item Berit Beck purchased at a drug store.

Brantner’s defense claimed the evidence was circumstantial.

During sentencing, Berit Beck’s father recalled their final conversation. “As she was leaving, she said with a smile, ‘Don’t worry dad all the people up north are good people,’” Dave Beck recalled. “I waved, as she drove off, not ever thinking that would be the last time I would ever see her or hear from her again.”

Brantner will have another day in court in a separate drug case. In February, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling that denied his claims of double jeopardy and sided with Brantner.

Brantner appealed his conviction for being charged twice for possessing different doses of the prescription drug oxycodone.

The pills were discovered when Brantner was arrested in the Berit Beck case. He had the drugs stashed in his boot. Brantner did not have a prescription for the pills.

The Supreme Court agreed with Brantner that counts 1 and 3 were identical and he should not be convicted twice for the same count.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to circuit court. A new sentencing hearing in the drug case is scheduled for Oct. 30, 2020.

correction: Action 2 News initially reported that Berit Beck's cause of death was strangulation. The DA tells us there was no conclusive cause of death from the autopsy.

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