Bryan Patrick Miller was arrested on January 14, 2015 and charged in a series of murders in Phoenix, Arizona known as the Phoenix Canal Murders.
He has been charged in the September 22, 1993 murder of 17-year-old Melanie Bernas and the November 8, 1992 murder of 22-year-old Angela Brasso. Both women disappeared while biking along the trails of the Phoenix canals. Brosso was decapitated. Her body was found near the canal in a vacant lot, and her head was found floating in the canal 11 days later. Bernas’ body was found floating in the canal. She was wearing a turquoise bathing suit that did not belong to her. A male DNA profile was obtained from samples taken from the women’s bodies.
The FGG investigation was conducted by Colleen Fitzpatrick of Identifinders. The case was referred to Fitzpatrick by Phoenix police detectives in October of 2014, after they had met at the ISHI (International Symposium for Human Identification) Conference in 2014 and discussed the possibility of using genetic genealogy. This was the first time that FGG had been used to clear a criminal investigation in North America. Unlike previous investigations, Fitzpatrick used existing DNA databases rather than massive public dragnets to find relative matches. This set a new standard for the field.
Fitzpatrick used Y-STR profiles to trace the male lineage of the suspect using the Sorenson Y-STR database, which was later purchased by Ancestry and taken offline. Fitzpatrick discovered that the DNA profile likely came from a male lineage with the surname Miller. She was able to take an initial suspect pool of 2,000 suspects and narrow it down to 5 men. This information was then be cross-referenced with any Millers living near the Phoenix canals. The initial confirmation of these finding was conducted by surreptitious sampling of Miller, who lived very near the bike path where the women disappeared.
As a youth, Miller was charged with stabbing a woman at a shopping mall. He claimed that the victim reminded him of his mother. Miller was acquitted in 2002 of stabbing another woman. He is currently being investigated for involvement in other murders.
Miller was originally scheduled to be tried in 2016. His trial has been delayed a number of times. He is facing the death penalty. Reports from August of 2021 indicate that Miller and his attorneys are seeking to introduce an insanity plea.
In January of 2022, Miller was declared fit to stand trial. He has asked to be excused from being tried before a jury and asked for a bench trial. He was tried before Judge Samantha Cohen of the Maricopa County Superior Court.
Miller then pled not guilty by reason of insanity. On January 9, 2023, Miller’s defense team introduced testimony that Miller suffered from dissociative amnesia, which is characterized by memory gaps or memory loss caused by a traumatic event. His defence also argued his autism spectrum disorder as another reason for justifying that Miller did not know what he was doing. Dr. Brand, a forensic psychologist who interviewed Miller, testified that Miller did not seem to be aware of his symptoms, and appeared frustrated when presented with the evidence against him. She also testified that while dissociative amnesia could be related to violent behaviour, it was probably not causal.
On April 11, 2023, Judge Cohen found Miller guilty of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, one count of sexual assault, and one count of attempted sexual assault. The judge ruled in April of 2023 that Miller is eligible for the death penalty. He will now proceed to a death penalty hearing.
On May 22, 2023, Miller’s lawyer, Richard Parker, argued at the death penalty hearing that Miller is on the Autism spectrum and suffered abuse at the hands of his mother while growing up. Miller himself stated only that he accepted the verdict, but did not apologize to the victims or their families, stating only that he could not provide them with the answers they were seeking.
On June 6, 2023, Judge Suzanna Cohen handed down two death sentences to Miller for the murders of Brosso and Bernas. Miller is thus far the only perpetrator to receive a capital sentence for a case cleared by FGG.
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