Hopkins man charged with ex-girlfriend's murder, history of domestic abuse revealed

The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office has filed second-degree murder charges against a Hopkins man for killing his one-time girlfriend just days after getting out of jail for assaulting her.

Danicka Bergeson was found dead in her apartment on July 8. Her alleged killer, Matthew Brenneman, had also attempted to take his own life, according to the charges.

Court files document a history of threatening behavior and physical abuse, including punching, biting, choking and deadly threats. Bergeson reportedly required medical care for her injuries. There were prior assault charges as well as time spent in jail, but Bergeson’s father believes there needed to be more consequences for Brenneman’s earlier attacks.

"To find out that he had been let out with really all his liberties, you know, or little or no restrictions, no ankle bracelet. There was a DANCO (domestic violence no contact order) put in place, but it had no teeth. And he was pretty much free to roam wherever he wanted to. And he did," David Bergeson told FOX 9’s Paul Blume.

The 33-year-old Bergeson was found dead in her Hopkins apartment last month. Prosecutors describing a gruesome scene. She may have been dead in her bed a day, perhaps longer.

Brenneman was present when police arrived.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner was never able to determine a cause of death. But Bergeson had abrasions and bruising, and was wrapped in blankets and a plastic garbage bag.

Brenneman had apparently swallowed bleach in an unsuccessful attempt at taking his own life.

Prosecutors say they have Brenneman on a jailhouse phone recording discussing the possibility Bergeson’s death was a "crime of passion."

He was in court Wednesday, convicted on two prior domestic assault cases involving Bergeson.

"It was a painful experience in the courtroom, no doubt," David Bergeson said afterward. "Certainly, happy with the fact it is moving in the right direction. But also, I am just concerned about the history that took place previously with this gentleman and being, you know, going out on a pretty severe charge, then let out relatively early."

David Bergeson described his daughter glowingly, a gifted, former state high school swimming champ at Edina. Danicka was also a medic in the military, who he said sometimes opened her heart and cared for others, maybe a little too much.

As for Brenneman, he remains in jail, held without the possibility of bail given his domestic violence convictions that will be sentenced at a later date. The murder case will now work its way through the court system as well.

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty released the following statement to FOX 9, addressing the prior assaults, and her desire to involve additional resources beyond the prosecutor’s office in the protection of victim-survivors of domestic violence:

"Our deepest condolences go out to the victim's family at this extremely difficult time. I cannot imagine the pain they are experiencing right now.

Domestic violence cases can be among the most difficult cases to prove due to ongoing romantic relationships between victims and defendants, and because victims often fear participating in the process. The ongoing relationships and legitimate and rational fears unfortunately often make these cases entirely reliant on circumstantial evidence or even leave prosecutors with little admissible evidence to prosecute and prove the cases beyond a reasonable doubt. Still, we will take these cases on when we believe we can prove them beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Mr. Brenneman’s case, despite the challenges in these cases, our office was able to secure two convictions for his prior conduct. With no criminal history prior to that, probation was the presumptive outcome based on the sentencing guidelines. With those convictions now entered by the judge, they will increase Mr. Brenneman’s criminal history if he is convicted in the new case. 

But cases like this demonstrate why we cannot rely solely on criminal prosecution in our response to violence. We must all do more to support victims of domestic violence. We must provide earlier interventions that provide financial support, housing alternatives, and counseling, to properly address the complexity of these cases and give survivors the tools and support to get out of dangerous situations. Only by doing so can we hope to prevent families from losing their loved ones to tragedies like this one."

If you or someone you know is facing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit the hotline’s website to chat with an expert.