Longform

Clueless

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"Bennie seemed well-intended, if kind of unsophisticated in the ways of criminal investigations," Keith says. "And he had a lot of cases that he was responsible for. To do the job adequately was going to take more than one person to track these things down. We would provide that information to officer Bennie, and we never got the sense that he in turn did anything with it. He would say, 'I can't tell you the status of it because it's an ongoing investigation.' But if he had followed up, we would have been aware of it.

"I think that given the tragedy that they were dealing with and the apparent inadequate level of investigation, their continued inquiries were justified," Keith says. "It's not like they were on his doorstep daily. We just never learned of any progress being made. I thought a lot more could be done."


One of the first things Bennie had asked the Gutheinzes was whether Brent was gay. After obtaining records of Brent's session with a therapist, Bennie contacted them again. Brent had told his therapist that in junior high he'd been raped by several boys--one the older brother of a friend--in a Plano park. The experience had prompted his obsession with weightlifting.

Not long before his death, Brent told several people that he had seen one of the attackers on the UTD campus. Had Brent threatened to expose the man? Bennie gave the Gutheinzes the task of finding names and phone numbers of Brent's friends in junior high. Jerry and Diana say Bennie never contacted them.

In September 1998, at the Gutheinzes' urging, Bennie called Brad, one of Brent's best friends, for the first time. After Brent's death, Brad had voluntarily called Plano police and given a short written statement.

On September 9, 1998, Brad wrote a 12-page statement describing the events leading up to the murder, including, at Bennie's urging, his theories about what had happened to Brent. Bennie asked Brad to take a polygraph exam, and he agreed.

But after the polygraph, the operator said Brad had shown deception on several questions related to the murder. Bennie confronted him, suggesting that he and Brent had a homosexual relationship. Stunned, Brad denied it.

After Bennie told Brad he was the prime suspect, Brad hired criminal defense attorney Reed Prospere, who set up an independent polygraph test. Brad passed. But even that didn't get him off the hook. He later learned Bennie had told his apartment manager he was under surveillance as a possible drug dealer.

"Most of my experiences with Texas Rangers have been good, but this wasn't one of them," says Prospere, who spent eight years as a prosecutor for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. "He's frustrated because he's got a horrible crime that can't be solved. Texas Rangers have a mentality in general that accords a bigger-than-life attitude. They think they can bully their way through the process."


As Jerry sat with Dr. Joni McClain, a medical examiner at the Dallas County Institute of Forensic Sciences, on October 15, 1998, he noticed she seemed uneasy, almost apologetic. (McClain did not return phone calls from the Observer.)

Jerry had a list of questions about the autopsy and forensic tests done on his son's body. Hoping to answer some of the Gutheinzes' concerns, in October 1998, Keith obtained a release from a justice of the peace in Grayson County that allowed the Gutheinzes to obtain the autopsy report and photos.

During the three-hour meeting with McClain, for the first time Jerry learned the extent of the damage done to his son's body, which weighed only 108 pounds when discovered.

The autopsy report revealed that Brent's body arrived at the medical examiner's office wrapped in a gray blanket placed there by someone at the crime scene. His hands were not bagged, as is standard procedure in a murder investigation to preserve material under the fingernails. And though the body had been intact at the scene, the pelvis and lower extremities had become detached during transportation by Flesher Funeral Home. (The blanket may have come from the funeral home personnel who transported the body.)

McClain told Jerry that none of the three was an acceptable method of handling evidence in Dallas County. The worst error, she said, was using the old blanket to cover the body, contaminating any trace evidence. The separation of the body could have caused false injuries to be noted. And bagging the hands would have helped determine if there had been a fight. Tests done on the nails were inconclusive.

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Glenna Whitley