By Amy Herdy
I wanted to get to know Brent Brents to understand evil. And this is what I found: We all have a role in his existence.
Part of it is due to the way our society is structured, and part of it is due to the fact that few people will intervene to help someone else. He was created, just as much as if there were a clinical lab and he was made of combustible elements. It was predictable, but not inevitable. I don’t have the solutions, only questions, and an earnest wish that we could find the children who will become like Brents and help them to prevent a future wave of their victims.
This site details the case of Brents, one of the nation’s most notorious sex offenders, from his childhood of horrific child abuse to his predatory adulthood of crime on the streets of Denver, where he stalked, kidnapped, raped and tortured multiple people.
Brents, who spent most of his childhood and teenage years in juvenile detention, was sentenced to prison in 1988 at age 18 for raping two children. He was released without parole in July 2004, and for the next seven months, by his estimation, sexually assaulted more than 60 men, women and children before law enforcement captured him in February 2005.
Brents pleaded guilty to more than 60 charges concerning a dozen women and children in Denver and Aurora, including attempted murder, rape, kidnapping, child abuse, sexual assault of a child, menacing, burglary and robbery, and in July 2005 received the largest combined sentence in Colorado history at that time: 1,509 years.
At the time I first encountered Brents, I was a Denver Post criminal justice reporter, cynical and driven. I’ve often said this is the tale of two predators-one a criminal, the other a journalist–for don’t we as journalists often prey upon people for their story? So this is also a story of my own awakening of sorts.
The year before his case erupted, I finished an all-consuming investigative series about sexual assault and domestic violence in the military that I co-authored, called “Betrayal in the Ranks.” Like a birth, the series took me and fellow Post reporter Miles Moffeit nine months to assemble. We invested every fiber of our beings into those stories in order to honor the amazing women who counted on us to be their voice, leaving behind our families, our friends and our health in the process. The series prompted investigations and spurred Congressional reforms–and left me empty and exhausted. It took me months to truly care about journalism again, and then the Brents case caught my attention.
The prospect of writing about rape from the perspective of the perpetrator, not the survivor, revived my interest.
He was the most predatory criminal I had ever encountered, and I hoped that through him, I would perhaps understand all the faceless sex offenders who had assaulted the countless survivors whose stories I have told and carried all these years, like a heavy bag of so many broken hearts.
He began as a bug under a microscope–indeed, that’s what I told him.
He became a lesson in humanity and compassion.
I did not expect what would happen—that by probing Brents for the story of how he was made, I would uncover universal truths and also parts of myself in the process. Covering his case affected me in ways I could not have predicted, for gradually it brought me to a level of understanding and empathy of which I didn’t think I was capable. Indeed, for the longest time I used to feel guilty that I could not hate Brents, as if something was wrong with me, and that if they knew, rape survivors everywhere would point a finger at me and scream, “Traitor!”
Coincidentally, it was my lack of contempt that prompted Brents to continue to call and write me. As former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary told me, “You did one thing right from the very beginning, and that’s why he talked to you: You never judged him.”
Instead, I began to judge myself. The Brents case illuminated my growing disillusionment with the callous media of whom I was a part. Those effects continue to this day, as does the correspondence between us that began shortly after his capture and included him sending me his journal, a meticulous record of his crimes and his history.
For those who say that a criminal is not capable of telling the truth–please know I have been able to verify his accounts by corroborating the details through interviews with officials and witnesses, as well as court records and criminal and medical reports.
Because of the unprecedented access he allowed me, this site is much more than simply an account of the crimes Brents committed. It is also the rare story of the psyche of the sociopathic man revealed and the impact it had on the reporter covering the case.
Through Brents, I realized truths about the human condition and our assumptions of evil—that it is not assigned, but constructed.
I realized that we can’t lock human beings away and move on without another thought, because we’re all connected, and turning our backs on others is really abandoning ourselves.
I also discovered I could no longer continue to be the journalist I once had been, forsaking myself, and my family, in order to satisfy a story.
For some journalists, the story becomes first and consequently, people take second, whether the journalist is fueled by a relentless competitive drive like I am, a careless disregard for what they leave in their wake or even a conscious heartlessness so often reflected by the rest of the world. It is easier for us as a culture to dismiss Brents as evil, because we don’t want to have anything in common with such a monster–it could mean we, too, are capable of monstrous things.
Exploring his humanity only serves as an uncomfortable reminder of our own kinship to him, and our roles in his existence.
Where does the blame belong? It belongs to Brents, certainly, for his choices. And what of his parents, and their parents before them, who perpetuated the cycle of incest, domestic violence and child abuse? What about the rest of the world, for its lack of compassion and refusal to intervene or to even recognize the Brent Brents who walk among us, until they exact their anger in a public way?—for there will certainly be more like him.
I want visitors to this site to know that I do not pity Brents. Nor is it my intention to glorify him or his crimes. Instead, I want to jar people out of their cocoons into trying to help others who are affected by violence. I want to raise awareness that rape is a universal crisis that wounds hearts and souls and bodies, and we need to stop putting the responsibility of its prevention on women. Sexual assault affects everyone.
As such, the case of Brent Brents is an extreme example of this: He was an equal opportunity offender, raping men, women and children. He tortured them in the most demeaning ways possible, a representation of what he had endured.
There are lessons to be learned from the case of Brent Brents that touch on just about every social issue-emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, the social services system, the juvenile justice system, the mental health system, the criminal justice system and last but not least, the media.
What compelled Brents to become such a predator? What if someone had intervened in his life while he was still a child?
How do you fix a social services system that removes children from an abusive home-such as what was done with Brents- only to return them? How do you repair a juvenile justice system that perpetuates the cycle of sexual abuse, honing young offenders into adult sexual offenders?
What about the prostitutes Brents raped months before he stalked his victims in high-income neighborhoods, prompting the immediate manhunt that resulted in his capture? Who helps those women and girls?
Why don’t crimes against lower-income victims receive as much media attention and outrage as those concerning victims from more affluent backgrounds?
How can therapists effectively treat the compulsion to be a sex offender? Is it a waste of time and resources?
When, if ever, does someone lose their right to be treated humanely? Is there a line that can be crossed when we as a society can simply dismiss certain people as monsters?
Is Brents sorry the lives he damaged? Is he capable of true remorse?
On this site will be excerpts from his journal, our letters and conversations, in addition to the extensive research I conducted. Anything attributed to Brents’s journal is exactly as he wrote it, including punctuation and spelling.
With his history and “jacket”–the notoriety of his crimes that accompanies him to prison–Brents expects to eventually be killed by other inmates. “My biggest fear,” he wrote me, “is that I will die without ever having done anything good.”
His experience of the world is violent, calculating, pathetic and wrenching-but it is still the same world in which we all live. It is his hope, and mine, that by presenting Brents’ life in unflinching fashion, we will learn something from it.