Phoenix canal murders: Bryan Patrick Miller sentenced to death

The so-called "Canal Killer" who was found guilty of first-degree murder and kidnapping in connection to the deaths of two women in the 90s, has been sentenced to death.

Bryan Patrick Miller was found guilty on all counts, including:

  • Guilty of first-degree murder
  • Guilty of two counts first-degree murder
  • Guilty on two kidnapping charges

Several key witnesses and loved ones took the stand in the trial against Bryan Patrick Miller. The trial began on Oct. 3, years after DNA findings linked Miller to the deaths of 22-year-old Angela Brosso in November 1992 and 17-year-old Melanie Bernas in September 1993.

Below are the trial's developments as the judge and jury decided Miller's fate following his choice to waive a trial by jury.

(Due to potentially graphic content stemming from certain testimonies, discretion is advised)

July 14, 2023

About a thousand pieces of evidence collected from the crime scenes remained in bags and boxes for years.

With new genetic technology and familial genealogy, detectives finally matched the unknown DNA samples they recovered from both cases.

Bloodied and torn clothing, underwear, the victims’ bodies provided detectives with a then-unknown DNA sample of an unknown male. Police say an anonymous tipster told them about Miller in the 90s, but he wasn’t considered a strong lead back then.

In 2015 as police narrowed in on Miller, they obtained his DNA sample from a mug that he drank out of while at a restaurant.

Undercover officers posed as security guards that wanted to offer Miller a job. They met him at a restaurant, then got his saliva from a mug, which he drank from, which he left on the table.

"That was the first case solved ever using forensic genetic genealogy in 2015. That identified Bryan Patrick Miller as the suspect in that case," says Colleen Fitzpatrick, a familial genealogist.

June 7, 2023

Bryan Patrick Miller has been sentenced to death in the murders of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Cohen announced.

Miller never denied that he was the one who brutally murdered the young women in the early 1990s. He tried to argue he was not guilty by reason of insanity.

Ultimately the judge ruled that he knew what he was doing, and that he deserves the ultimate punishment.

"There is no question that what the defendant did deserves the death penalty," said Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Cohen. "The question the court must answer is if the totality of the mitigation is sufficiently substantial to call for leniency. The answer is no."

Although he was denied mercy, Miller remained grateful to the judge.

"I guess thanks for listening to everything we said, giving us the opportunity to try and convince you otherwise," Miller remarked in court.

Miller now joins more than 100 other inmates on Arizona’s death row.

Right now, executions are on hold until the Department of Corrections completes a review. The pause and review were ordered by Governor Katie Hobbs earlier this year.

MORE: Bryan Patrick Miller's defense team argues for life in prison over death penalty

May 23, 2023

April 19, 2023

On this day, the defense brought out some of their witnesses, as the death penalty phase of the trial continues.

In all, three witnesses were called: a psychology expert and two character witnesses. The defense is hoping to prove that Miller's childhood trauma is the cause of his actions.

"What are the reasons that children develop social deficits? Is there any specific reason?" a defense attorney asked psychology expert Dr. John Maag.

"The main reason would be lack of appropriate modeling of social skills in the home and in the schools," Dr. Maag replied.

"Were you ever scared of [Miller], or did you ever feel like [Miller] rubbed you the wrong way?" a defense lawyer asked one of the character witnesses.

"No. I think I was more afraid for him than I was of him," the witness replied.

One of the witnesses, Victoria Fong, painted a picture of physical abuse. Fong had Miller as a student.

"What my recollection is, is seeing some long scratch marks," said Fong. "I don’t know if it was from an object or somebody’s hand, but the recollection comes back as it being a hanger."

With the insanity defense now off the table, the defense is trying to portray the traumatizing background Miller was tortured with is his early years.

"I do recall seeing some spots on his arms, thinking it could possibly be a cigarette burn," Fong said.

"And it looked consistent with burn marks?" the defense attorney asked.

"It did," Fong replied.

Miller's relatives, former neighbors, as well as more friends are expected to testify on his behalf.

April 18, 2023

Family members of the victims spoke in court on this day of the pain and anguish they have experienced since the murders.

The mother of Angela Brosso and the sister of Melanie Bernas made what is known as "victim impact statements" during the death penalty phase of the trial.

"I keep waiting to wake up from this horrible dream, the dream that is this tragic reality, in a dark, empty hole without the light of my life," said Brosso's mother. 'The defendant snatched my rare, precious butterfly from the breeze and killed and mutilated her."

"The guilt we felt for not being there to protect her, the anger we felt at the pure evil inflicted upon her, and the images that filled our minds of her being stabbed, raped, throat cut, chest carved into, and when the defendant was done with her, carelessly throwing her into the canal," said Bernas' sister.

Miller's attorney is planning to call of several witnesses to testify, in hopes of sparing his life. So far, defense attorneys have called Miller's relatives, friends and former neighbors to testify. They have testified on Miller's abusive and traumatizing childhood, which, they say, is the root of his actions.

Apr. 17, 2023

Apr. 13, 2023

"The judge did find the aggravators in the case, which allows the state to move forward in seeking a sentence of death," a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office said in a statement.

Apr. 11, 2023

Bryan Patrick Miller was found guilty on all counts, including first-degree murder and kidnapping.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Suzanna Cohen has reached a verdict in State of Arizona v. Bryan Patrick Miller.

The verdict will be read at 2 p.m.

Apr. 5, 2023

Attorneys presented their closing arguments for their respective cases on this day.

There is no argument over whether Miller murdered and mutilated Brosso and Bernas. The argument is whether Miller is not guilty by reason of insanity.

"On one track, [Miller] has got his trauma state. On another track, [Miller] has his normal state," said the defense attorney.  "The trauma state is planning things. It's being fueled by different emotions, and has a different agenda. What's happening is not being recognized by the normal state."

Prosecutors, meanwhile, argue that Miller's abusive childhood led to his fusion of sex, pleasure and violence as an adult, turning him into a sexual sadist.

"What we have is a man who wants to be violent with women, who wants to mutilate them, and have sex with them who did this," said the prosecutor. "This isn't about mental health. This isn't about insanity. Instead, it's about a man who made choices to go on canals with knives, and wait for an opportunity."

Closing arguments are set to continue on Apr. 6. As this is a bench trial, a judge will now deliver the verdict and the earliest that could happen is Apr. 11.

Mar. 29, 2023

Miller's ex-wife, Amy Miller, took the stand on this day.

Amy had a daughter with Miller before their divorce. During her testimony, Amy, who did not want her face shown, revealed what it was like to be intimate with Miller.

"He would put needles through my lips. His preference: both lips in alternating fashion. Basically sewing my mouth shut using the straight pins," Amy said.

"Would the pins go through your bottom and top lips?" Amy was asked.

"Yes," Amy replied.

"Would you be bound when this as happening>" Amy was asked.

"Usually," Amy replied.

As mentioned below, a psychologist for the defense has testified that Miller has Disassociative Disorder, among several other mental illnesses, and suffered an abusive childhood. A psychologist for the prosecution, however, diagnosed Miller as a sexual sadist who takes pleasure in inflicting pain.

Letters that Miller had written to his ex-wife were read in court.

"It reads, 'I told you I enjoyed it when I cut you and sucked on the wound. This is true. This was something that's extremely intimate,'" a portion of the letter reads. "I want us to bring it to the edge of danger. Bring it close to being the most intimate it could be."

Mar. 15, 2023

A psychologist took the stand for the trial on this day, and explains why she diagnosed Miller with a disorder associated with serial killers.

The testimony of Dr. Tina Garby came after a forensic psychologist testified that Miller has a laundry list of mental disorders, including Dissociative Amnesia.

During her testimony, Dr. Garby said Miller is likely a sexual sadist, or a person who gains pleasure from inflicting extreme pain and suffering on another person.

"Any kind of cutting or desecration of the body is definitely more consistent with someone who has sexual sadism," said Dr. Garby.

"How about decapitation?" Dr. Garby was asked.

"Definitely more likely with a sexual sadist," Dr. Garby replied.

"If sadism is a learned behavior, can a person control his or her actions?" Dr. Garby was asked.

"100%. Always," Dr. Garby replied.

On Mar. 16, another psychologist is expected to testify that Miller was sane, and carefully planned the murders. Meanwhile, Miller's ex-wife is expected to take the stand later in March.

Jan. 19, 2023

Attorneys for Miller presented evidence that they hope will prove that Miller was not sane during the early 1990s.

A Forensic Psychologist testified on the psychologically destructive abuse that Miller endured over the course of many years.

"There are reports of hangar marks, grab bruises, torso bruises as a result of being thrown," said Dr. Mark Cunningham. "It was accepted in extended family that Ellen was a horrible and abusive parent."

Miller is reportedly diagnosed with a long list of mental health disorders, including Autism, Complex PTSD, Hoarding, and Associating Disorder.

"There are wiring deficits he suffers from, in terms of processing, self-direction, and relationships," said Dr. Cunningham, who went on to say that Miller's abusive childhood left him emotionally and socially disabled.

As a teenager, other adults reportedly tried to get help for Miller, but he ended up in juvenile detention.

"Recommendations are being made at age 13-and-a-half get multifaceted mental health treatment for him," said Dr. Cunningham. "There is a external recognition that his emotional difficulties are so severe and obvious."

Dec. 15, 2022

More courtroom drama took place during today's trial proceedings.

Throughout the week, trial proceedings involved a deep dive into Miller's mind, with one clinical psychologist talking about an allegedly unspeakable abuse by Miller's late mother.

"I don't recall if it was scissors or the knife that time that started trying to attack him, saying that she was going to cut off his penis," said Dr. Bethany Brand.

Lawyers for Miller claim he suffers from a number of mental health conditions, from PTSD, a dissociative disorder, to amnesia and multiple personalities. They also claim as a child, Miller would imagine being an animal when times got tough.

"He refers to a part of himself as squirreling himself away into a ball, playing dead like an armadillo," said Miller's lawyer. "That's literally part of the language, the dissociation literature, because some small mammals and other animals and children can literally pretend to play dead. It's a part of the dissociative response."

Trial proceedings were held up today by constant objections, and today was the final day for proceedings before Christmas break.

November 2022

The trial resumed on Nov. 3 and 14.

Oct. 31, 2022

Some testimonies today focused on evidence seized during a search conducted in 2015, when Miller was arrested.

During court, a Phoenix Police digital forensics scientist testified, as did a Phoenix crime lab serologist on the DNA that was discovered.

Phoenix Police Det. David Hadad, Digital Forensics Scientist, looked at Miller's phone and a laptop they retrieved from his home in a 2015 search warrant.

Oct. 11, 2022

Tuesday's focused on the autopsies of both victims, Melanie Bernas and Angela Brosso.

A doctor who examined the autopsies detailed the stab wounds and the damage caused by those wounds, saying both victims had major damage to their aorta, the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Oct. 10, 2022

The trial picked back up Monday as a pathologist talked about the autopsy results for Melanie Bernas. Detectives also took the stand to testify about surveillance on Miller, obtaining his DNA sample and the search of his home.

The trial continues Tuesday.

Oct. 5, 2022

A 17-year-old junior at Arcadia High school in Phoenix who loved sports and riding her bike. Melanie Bernas' mother testified virtually in court on Oct. 5. She says her daughter was not allowed to ride her bike at night.

Elaine Bernas says she was surprised her daughter wasn't home when she returned the night of Sept. 21, 1992.

"I thought she was going to stay home, and I kissed her goodbye and said 'I'll see you in a little while,'" she remembered.

The trial will resume Monday, Oct. 10.

Oct. 4, 2022

Day two in the double murder trial of Bryan Patrick Miller, the man accused of murdering two young women along a Phoenix canal in the 1990s. Today we're hearing from someone who knew one of the victims, Angela Brosso. She was 22 years old when she was murdered and decapitated.

Brosso was killed on the eve of her birthday. We have always called her Angela Brosso, but the person who took the stand this morning, her boyfriend, called her Angie. Joseph Krakowiecki was 24 years old at the time she was murdered in November 1992.

Krakowiecki testified in court today that the two would often ride their mountain bikes along the canal path behind their apartments near 24th Avenue and Cactus in Phoenix. On Sunday night November 8, 1992, Brosso went riding alone while he stayed behind, preparing for her upcoming birthday.

"Yes, I was baking her a cake that night. That's why I didn't go on the bike ride," he said.

Krakowiecki says when Angie didn't return, he began to worry, and finally called the police around 11 p.m.

Brosso's headless body was discovered the following morning in a vacant lot off the bike path. 11 days later, her head was discovered floating in the canal next to the bike path.

The defense had no questions for Krakowiecki.

The Phoenix Police detective who investigated the case also testified today. Detective Mike Meislish testified to details of the graphic murder scene. Prosecutors also had exhibits, such as the clothing Brosso was wearing when she was murdered.

Defense attorneys have said they will show that defendant Bryan Miller is not guilty by reason of insanity. They say Miller suffers from Autism spectrum disorder and complex dissociative disorders. 

The prosecution meanwhile, says the murders of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas were planned and calculated.

The trial will resume tomorrow morning.

Oct. 3, 2022

A bench trial is scheduled to begin Monday for a man accused of sexually attacking and fatally stabbing two young women in separate killings nearly 30 years ago near a metro Phoenix canal system.

Bryan Patrick Miller, 49, is charged with two counts each of first-degree murder, kidnapping and attempted sexual assault.

Prosecutors said the state is seeking the death penalty if Miller is convicted.

He waived his right to a jury trial so a Maricopa County Superior Court judge will decide Miller’s fate.

Miller is accused of killing 22-year-old Angela Brosso in November 1992 and 17-year-old Melanie Bernas in September 1993.

Brosso and Bernas both disappeared while riding their bicycles along the Arizona Canal in north Phoenix.

Authorities said Brosso’s body was found nude and decapitated in a field near a bike path that’s adjacent to the canal.

Ten months later, Bernas’ body was discovered floating in the canal.

Authorities said DNA evidence collected in the aftermath of both crimes showed the attacks were linked to the same suspect.

Miller was arrested for the murders in 2015, but denied any involvement, although he acknowledged living in the vicinity of the killings at the time and said he rode his bike on paths in the area, according to Phoenix police.

It wasn't until nine months ago that Miller was found mentally fit to go on trial.

More on the Bryan Patrick Miller case:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bryan Patrick Miller_Angela Brosso_Melanie Bernas

A judge has found that Bryan Patrick Miller. who was charged with sexually attacking and fatally stabbing Melanie Bernas and Angela Brosso nearly 30 years ago near a canal system in metro Phoenix, is mentally fit to stand trial.