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‘Beyond the pale’: Judge orders death penalty for ‘Zombie Killer’ who murdered and 2 women, decapitating 1

Angela Brosso, Bryan Patrick Miller, and Melanie Bernas (Phoenix Police Dept.)

Angela Brosso, Bryan Patrick Miller, and Melanie Bernas (Phoenix Police Dept.)

A 50-year-old man in Arizona known as the “Zombie Killer” has been sentenced to die for kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and killing two young women in the early nineties, one of whom he even decapitated. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Cohen on Wednesday ordered Bryan Patrick Miller to be executed by the state for the horrific slayings of 22-year-old Angela Brosso and 17-year-old Melanie Bernas, authorities announced.

Judge Cohen handed down two death sentences — one for each count of first-degree murder — as well as an additional 24 years in prison for two counts each of kidnapping and attempted sexual assault in connection with the attacks.

Prior to announcing Miller’s sentence, Cohen described the “heinousness and depravity” of the killings as “beyond the pale,” the Arizona Republic reported.

“The defendant did not just murder them. He brutalized them. And he evaded capture for over 20 years,” she reportedly said as she handed down her ruling. “There is no question that what the defendant did deserves the death penalty.”

According to a press release from the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office, Brosso on Nov. 8, 1992, went out for a bike ride along a canal in Phoenix but never returned home. As local authorities were about to launch a search for the missing teen, her decapitated body — which was nearly severed in half at the torso — was discovered in the area near 25th Avenue and Cactus Road. Her head — which was not in the same location as the body — was not located for another 11 days, when it was found in the Arizona Canal. She was sexually assaulted post-mortem, the Arizona Republic reported.

Bernas, a student at Arcadia High School, was murdered in September 1993. She was also on a bike read near the canal when Miller attacked, sexually assaulted, and killed her with a knife. Her body was found floating in the Arizona Canal near an interstate overpass, about 1.5 miles from where Brosso’s body was discovered.

In a statement following Wednesday’s hearing, County Attorney Rachel Mitchell described what happened to Brosso and Bernas as “horrific crimes,” but said she hoped that the sentence handed down would “bring a measure of peace to the families of these two young women.”

Both murders remained unsolved for more than 20 years until investigators in 2015 were able to link Miller to both slayings using DNA evidence. Specifically, bodily fluids from both crimes pegged Miller as the culprit, authorities said.

Prior to affecting an arrest, an undercover officer pretended to be a security company employee seeking help doing surveillance and arranged a meeting with Miller at a restaurant. Following the “meeting,” authorities seized a mug Miller drank from and used it to obtain a sample of his DNA. That sample was then matched to the bodily fluids found at the two crime scenes.

Judge Cohen in January 2021 dismissed an attempt by Miller’s defense attorneys to quash the DNA evidence against him, reasoning that Miller had no reasonable expectation of privacy in that circumstance.

Miller in March 2022 opted to forgo his right to a jury trial in lieu of a bench trial, meaning the verdict was left to Judge Cohen’s discretion. In April 2022, she found Miller guilty on all of the aforementioned counts.

During the sentencing hearing, several of the victims’ family members read impact statements.

“September of this year will mark the 30-year anniversary of the gruesome murder of our beloved little sister, Melanie,” Bernas’ older sister, Jill Canetta, told the court. “Words cannot begin to explain the level of excruciating pain we experience every single day since her murder. We live without her smile, her hugs, her companionship. We live without her love.”

Brosso’s mother, Angela Brosso, also spoke at the hearing.

“The defendant stole my angel from the Earth. Angela was my one and only,” she said. “I will never be able to plan her wedding. I will never have grandchildren. With his actions on that night, he murdered my angel, he ripped my heart, and I will never, ever be the same.”

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.