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1996 beating in Milwaukee now labeled a homicide

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A Milwaukee man was severely beaten in July 1996 and lived a life dealing with complications from that incident. That man died late last month -- and his death is now being called a homicide.

A report from the Milwaukee County Medical's Examiner's Office says Joseph Hetzel was leaving Summerfest when he ended up in a parking lot on E. Michigan St. -- several blocks from the festival grounds. He was severely beaten by a group of men there.

Why has the case now been ruled a homicide? Attorney Frank Gimbel says it's uncommon but not unheard of.

"This is one case that comes up maybe once every five or ten years in a jurisdiction," said Gimbel. "It might be difficult to even be able to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the death of this individual was actually caused by assault on him."

Hetzel's brother told the medical examiner that during the 1996 beating, his brother was hurt so severely, his head "caved in." He was comatose for some time and had to have brain surgery.

In 2009, Hetzel fell down and suffered another brain injury. He eventually ended up in a wheelchair.

What might make this case even more difficult to prosecute -- no arrests have been made and no suspects have been named.

"At the end of the day, there's no place to go with this particular case, except perhaps to visit some guilt or anxiety on the people who were involved in this fight," said Gimbel.

If this does lead to prosecution, the individual or individuals could only be charged with first-degree intentional homicide. That's because of the statute of limitations.

FOX6 News reached out to Hetzel's family. They declined to comment at this time.