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The Gutheinzes thought they knew their son well. Even at age 22, Brent talked to his parents at least several times a week, sometimes daily. He wasn't shy about sharing intimate details, even about his active sex life.

Despite his seeming openness, after Brent's murder the Gutheinzes discovered things they didn't know about their middle son, such as his use of steroids. More people might have wanted Brent dead than they initially believed. And Brent had a dark secret: He claimed he had been raped in middle school by several older boys. "He was still having a hard time with that," says Rosalie Castillo, a college girlfriend.

Piecing together the last several years of Brent's life, what emerges is the picture of a charming, complex and conflicted young man whose need to skate on the edge sometimes got him into trouble.

In high school, Brent befriended several other Plano Senior High students interested in bodybuilding. His brother Stephen warned him to stay away from one boy, a wrestler known for his use of steroids and other drugs. The wrestler later went to prison; he's now dead, the result of an apparent suicide. Brent seemed intent on sidling as close to the edge of danger as possible, then backing away before getting burned.

After high school, Brent enrolled at Texas Tech. For Sara Martwig, who met Brent in the spring of 1994, it was hate at first sight. The weightlifter with the shaved head seemed arrogant.

But when the two met the next semester, they couldn't take their eyes off each other. Brent's hair had grown in a soft blond mop, and his body, while still buff, seemed less bulked up. "He was happy-go-lucky, very personable; everybody loved him and wanted to be around him," Martwig says. "It took us awhile before we realized we'd met before." Soon they were inseparable.

That year, Martwig says, she got on the dean's list because she and Brent spent so much time studying together. "He was a very diligent student," she says.

Deciding they were soul mates, the couple set a wedding date for two years later, after their scheduled graduations.

During the summer of 1995, Martwig made plans to work as a nanny in Dallas to be near Brent, though the two had been having conflicts. "It was being young and dumb and not knowing ourselves very well," Martwig says. None of their differences had seemed that serious, but the day before she left Lubbock, Brent shocked her by breaking up over the phone. He never gave her a reason. She later learned Brent had left Lubbock in fear of his life.

Earlier that semester, as a resident adviser in Murdough Hall, Brent had tried to mediate a dispute between two students, "William and Jerry." William told Brent he was going to pay a student people called "Big Tony" to hurt his rival. Brent knew Tony, a weightlifter, from the gym.

Several days later, Brent ran into Tony, who asked, "When are you gonna do this favor with me for William?" Fearing that the student would be hurt and that Tony might turn on him for not cooperating, Brent called his father and said he was going to the police. Thinking Brent was crazy to get involved, Jerry nonetheless hired Lubbock attorney Robert St. Clair to represent his son. "He was nervous about retaliation," St. Clair says.

On March 24, 1995, Brent went to the police and wrote a three-page affidavit. "I consider Tony to be a dangerous person," Brent wrote. He described Tony talking about his involvement with drugs and guns and an incident in which Tony pointed a handgun at him.

That summer, Jerry insisted that Brent return to Tech so he could graduate on time. Crying, Brent told his father that after he wrote the affidavit, Tony had broken into his room, put a gun to his head and told him to leave Lubbock. His tires were slashed, his car stereo stolen and his room vandalized.

"Brent believed that this guy would kill him if he went back to Tech," Jerry says. "He says that's one reason he broke up with Sara, so she wouldn't be hurt." The story sounded improbable to Jerry, but Brent was clearly upset.

In Dallas, Brent enrolled in community college. At his mother's urging, Brent began seeing a therapist, who diagnosed him as bipolar, torn between alternating mania and depression.

"Looking back on it," says Martwig about the end of her relationship with Brent, "I could see he was cycling into a manic phase. He was spending a lot more money and not really thinking about it too much." And soon Brent had found another new love.

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Glenna Whitley