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Zombie Hunter’s unique murder defense: His mother created a monster

The murders of two young women, killed months apart while riding their bikes along a canal in Phoenix, Arizona, went unsolved for more than two decades and would become known as the Phoenix canal murders.

Investigators got a break 21 years after the murders thanks to DNA and genetic genealogy. They zeroed in on Bryan Patrick Miller, 42, a divorced father raising his teenage daughter. Investigators soon discovered Miller had an alter ego. He was a local celebrity known for participating in parades and festivals as the Zombie Hunter.

A person of interest, detectives just needed a sample of Miller’s DNA to make the case or eliminate him as a suspect.

TWO YOUNG WOMEN VICIOUSLY MURDERED ALONG BIKE PATH

Clark Schwartzkopf: It’s one of those cases that you just don’t forget … you can’t unsee what happened to those girls, you just can’t.

Long before the man known as the Zombie Hunter became the prime suspect in the canal murders, Clark Schwartzkopf was a detective with the Phoenix Police Department’s cold case squad. His mission was simple but pointed: find the killer responsible for those vicious murders of two young women from the early 1990s.

Clark Schwartzkopf: To this day, I’m still not exactly sure about what … happened on those … bike paths.

The case began on Nov. 8, 1992. Angela Brosso, a tech worker who had recently moved to Phoenix, was taking advantage of beautiful weather to get in a little exercise, says Briana Whitney, the true crime reporter for the CBS affiliate KPHO in Phoenix.

Briana Whitney: Each night, she would go out for her evening bike ride just at golden hour at sunset, the best time to be riding out here.

Angela was only hours away from turning 22, and, like a lot of locals, she liked to bike on the paths that ran alongside the city’s distinctive canals, says Schwartzkopf, a “48 Hours” consultant.

Peter Van Sant: Are there places that are sort of natural ambush sites if somebody wants to attack someone?

Clark Schwartzkopf: Yeah, they are … there’s a lot of tunnels that go underneath the interstate.

That November evening in 1992, Angela left her apartment around 7 p.m., her boyfriend Joe later told police. He said he stayed home to bake Angela a birthday cake and didn’t expect her to be gone long.

Briana Whitney: Hours go by, and Joe grows concerned. Angela hasn’t come home. And that’s not like her.

Joe told police he took his bike out three times that night, frantically searching for Angela on the canal paths. He spoke to her friends — even her mother back in Pennsylvania. Finally, he reported Angela missing to police. The next morning, searchers came upon a horrific scene.

Briana Whitney: Angela Brosso’s torso was found in a field next to the trail that she had been riding her bike on.

Angela had been stabbed to death.

Approximately 10 days after Angela’s headless body was discovered, a man fishing along this section of the canal, spotted her head stuck on a grate.

Morgan Loew, an investigative reporter who also works at KPHO and is a “48 Hours” consultant, has been working on the canal killer case for more than a decade.

Morgan Loew: And from what we have heard from witnesses … the head was in amazingly good condition, especially considering this was days after the murder. … We’ve heard that the head looked like it had been preserved … Like it was a memento for the killer.

Angela’s purple mountain bike was also missing. There were no solid leads, and the case went quiet until September 1993—10 months after Angela’s murder—when the mother of 17-year-old Melanie Bernas returned from a dinner date to find her daughter had broken her curfew and was not home. She then noticed that Melanie’s bicycle was missing.

Morgan Loew: Melanie decides to go on a bike ride … by around 10:30 when Melanie did not return, her mother … started calling her friends. “Is Melanie there?”

Rachel Schepemaker: Well, my mom took the phone call … said that Melanie’s mom was frantic and like nervous …

Rachel Schepemaker was one of Melanie’s close friends in high school.

Peter Van Sant: So initially when you hear … that her mother’s looking for her … You’re not thinking something terrible has happened to your friend?

Rachel Schepemaker: Definitely not. I thought she was with a friend and just forgot to communicate with her mom where she was.

Early the next morning Charlotte Pottle, a local resident, happened to be riding along the canal with her young daughter in a bicycle seat. Just as they came out of one of those tunnels that ran under the interstate, she spotted a puddle.

Charlotte Pottle: There was just a big puddle of something. … Ended up riding right through it … and having it splash up over me.

Pottle says something about the puddle bothered her, so a few minutes later she doubled back. That’s when she made a horrible realization.

Charlotte Pottle: I could tell that it was a puddle of red, that it was a puddle of blood.

Charlotte Pottle (pointing to a tree): And all of a sudden, as I’m looking at it, I noticed that there are some drag marks that went along over here.

Peter Van Sant: Toward that tree.

Charlotte Pottle: Towards that tree. Yes. … And then went around the tree and was drugged back … you could see the drag marks right here to the canal.

Pottle went home and called police. Later that night, the local news reported that a woman’s body had been found in the canal, close to where Angela Brosso’s head had been located.

Rachel Schepemaker: They found the body in a teal bodysuit. I was told by some other friends that Melanie did not own that. It can’t be her.

Schepemaker went to sleep convinced the body in the canal was not Melanie. But the next day —

Rachel Schepemaker: I’m at school … my friends just come up to me crying and saying it was Melanie.

Detectives strongly suspected Melanie had been targeted and stabbed in the back by the same person who had killed Angela.

Morgan Loew: Police believe that somehow, the killer got her off of her bike, whether he knocked her off of her bike or whether he asked her a question.

Schwartzkopf says the evidence indicates the killer approached the women from behind.

Clark Schwartzkopf :Both the knife wounds were the exact same position.

Investigators say the killer dragged Melanie’s body off the canal path removed her clothes and dressed her in that teal bodysuit.

Peter Van Sant: Along with the stabbing and the dismemberment, there was another component to these murders, wasn’t there?

Briana Whitney: Yeah, both women were sexually assaulted.

And that meant investigators had a crucial piece of evidence: DNA.

Clark Schwartzkopf: when the DNA from Melanie’s scene was finally tested later, it … matched to Angela’s scene. So, we knew for sure that we were dealing with the same perpetrator.

Investigators noted that the initial stab wounds to the backs of each woman were fatal and so precise that detectives suspected the killer might be a surgeon.

Morgan Loew: The details about what happened … were the kinds of things that kept parents from letting their kids out when the sun went down.

THE TRAIL LEADING TO THE “CANAL KILLER” BEGINS WITH DNA FROM THE CRIME SCENE

The murders of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas in the early 1990s created fear in Phoenix that lasted for a generation.

Morgan Loew: They watched the news and read the newspaper every day, hoping that police would make an arrest. And it just kept going on and — nothing and nothing and nothing.

Investigators had collected matching male DNA from both the victims. But more than two decades passed and the canal murder cases went cold. Then, science finally caught up with the calendar.

Briana Whitney: It’s in 2014, Phoenix police detectives are at a DNA conference. … and a forensic genealogist from California is also at the conference.

Colleen Fitzpatrick, founder of Identifinders International, was there to meet with law enforcement.

Briana Whitney: And she goes up to these detectives, and says, hey, I can take Y chromosomes and create these DNA profiles and try to match … with genealogy to help solve criminal cases.

Fitzpatrick’s company had developed software that could mine public genealogy databases, searching for matches to crime scene DNA. The detectives heard her out.

Colleen Fitzpatrick: And then several weeks later, they sent me the Y-DNA profile … from the crime scene for the Phoenix canal murders.

Fitzpatrick’s company started crunching the data, hoping to provide Phoenix detectives with a name.

Colleen Fitzpatrick: We entered the numbers from the forensic profile into our software. … That’s where I came up with six matches to the name Miller.

While the genetic genealogy search produced the name Miller, it is also one of the most common last names. Detective Schwartzkopf started digging.

Peter Van Sant: You check your files and what do you find?

Clark Schwartzkopf: I think there were a total of six Millers that were on what I called my master list. … And I went down through the list … got to Bryan Patrick Miller.

But who was Bryan Patrick Miller? Records showed he was 42 years old with a Phoenix address. That name was just one of more than 600 persons of interest who had lived in those case files for years, placed there by a tip. Police at the time seemingly did not pursue Miller.

Clark Schwartzkopf: We discovered his file downstairs.

Police learned Bryan Miller had a record dating back to before the canal murders. In May 1989, when he was just 16 years old, Miller crossed paths with Celeste Bentley.

Celeste Bentley: I was 24, and I was going to work. … I had … just noticed … a young boy on the bus.

Bentley says she and the boy got off at the same stop. Moments later, she felt something in her back.

Celeste Bentley: He had ran by me, I thought he had just hit me. … I just yelled at him. I was like … “why — why’d you do that,” you know? And then, I reached back and touched my back and realized that it was blood … I had been stabbed.

With a single knife wound to her upper back, Bentley screamed and managed to make it to the store where she worked. A coworker called for help. About 30 minutes later, when Bentley was in the back of an ambulance —

Celeste Bentley: The police came and said they found him, and they wanted to bring him to the ambulance to show him to me.

Bentley identified her assailant. Bryan Miller was charged with aggravated assault.

Celeste Bentley: They said that if he had held the blade the other way, he would’ve gone straight through my ribs, and I could have died.

Miller pleaded guilty and was sentenced to juvenile detention until he turned 18. It was a far cry from where Miller’s life had begun.

Briana Whitney: He was living in Hawaii for a while as a kid with his mom and his dad. But his dad died early on in a motorcycle accident.

Years later, Miller and his mother Ellen moved to Phoenix.

Briana Whitney: So, for most of his life and early years, it was Bryan Miller and his mom.

While Miller was in juvenile detention, his mother made a disturbing discovery.

Morgan Loew: Bryan Miller’s mom was looking through his stuff, and she found a note that he wrote.

The pages detailed a sinister plan: kidnap the girl, tie her up in the truck and cut her clothes off.

Morgan Loew: This note spelled out how he wanted to find, abduct, rape, murder and dismember a young woman. And Bryan’s mom was so disturbed by this piece of paper that she took it to Phoenix police.

It was Miller’s 18th birthday and he had just been released as an adult.

Clark Schwartzkopf: She flat out told police at the time that she was really scared for her safety. … And that she was not going to allow him to come home.

So, after his release, Miller ended up at a Phoenix halfway house. When Schwartzkopf read that note in 2014, he was struck by something.

Clark Schwartzkopf: There was a lot of things in there that were close or similar to what happened specifically to Angela.

Including a description of decapitating a victim and preserving the head. Phoenix police wanted to locate Miller. Luckily, he was very easy to find.

INVESTIGATORS MEET BRYAN MILLER BUT DISCOVER HE IS THE ZOMBIE HUNTER

In December 2014, Phoenix police continued digging into potential suspect Bryan Miller who they discovered was actually a local celebrity.

Briana Whitney: Everybody at the time in the Phoenix area knew Bryan Patrick Miller as this character called the Zombie Hunter.

Peter Van Sant: The Zombie Hunter. … Like a comic book character?

Briana Whitney: Yeah, like a comic book character. Like a … good guy fighting the bad guys.

Miller’s alter ego was a costumed figure who participated in parades and festivals around town.

Briana Whitney: He wore this long trench coat with these goggles and helmet and had this large Gatling gun.

And if you’re going to hunt zombies, you need a way to get around.

Briana Whitney: He bought … an old police car and tricked it out … wrote “Zombie Hunter” on it.

Morgan Loew: And it had a full-size zombie mannequin in the back and blood on the side.

Friend Eric Braverman says Miller’s zombie hunter persona attracted a big fan base — including law enforcement officers who lined up to pose with him.

Eric Braverman: Collected pictures of himself with the cops like trophies. … They’re all smiling big with him leaning on the car.

Braverman says Miller’s superhero character was the opposite of what Miller was like when he wasn’t in costume.

Eric Braverman: He seemed like a harmless marshmallow that was immersed in this goofy lifestyle. … He’s just that unassuming guy.

But could Miller be the canal killer? The only way to find out was to get his DNA. Investigators began to surveil Miller, who worked at an Amazon warehouse. Every day when he got there, Miller parked the zombie mobile in the same spot.

Clark Schwartzkopf: He would come out for his 15-minute break, blast his music really loud. … Lunchtime came out to the car, same thing. … Blast this God-awful music.

Schwartzkopf came up with an elaborate plan to get his DNA.

Clark Schwartzkopf: I went up and introduced myself to Miller. He was in his car.

Peter Van Sant: What did you introduce yourself as?

Clark Schwartzkopf: I introduced myself as a security consultant.

Schwartzkopf told Miller that thieves had been stealing goods from a warehouse across the way.

Clark Schwartzkopf: I said, “would you be interested in working for me as a security officer watching the building while you’re outside?”

Peter Van Sant: Did his eyes light up?

Clark Schwartzkopf: Yeah, because it was a good paying job. I said, look—”I’ll pay you 20 bucks an hour.”

On Jan. 2, 2015, Schwartzkopf met Miller at a Chili’s restaurant to fill out a job application. The cold case unit was behind the scenes ready to bag anything that had Miller’s DNA on it, such as utensils or a glass.

Clark Schwartzkopf: They set a table for me and Mr. Miller away from everybody else in a part of the restaurant where nobody else is at.

Miller arrived with a surprise guest — his 15-year-old daughter, Sarah. Miller was a divorced, single dad.

Eric Braverman: He was very gentle in caring about his daughter. He often brought his daughter … where he would be going.

The trio sat down and ordered hamburgers. When the food arrived —

Clark Schwartzkopf: He swallows his hamburger, in like, five bites. … Won’t take a drink of his water. And I’m sitting there going, “Are you sure you … don’t want … something else to drink? You just got water.” “No, no, I’m good, I’m good, I’m good.”

Schwartzkopf started to worry this operation would be a bust.

Peter Van Sant: And what does he finally do that makes this mission accomplished?

Clark Schwartzkopf: He finally took a drink from the water glass … That’s when I knew that, OK, now we’ve at least got his DNA.

Despite knowing about Miller’s juvenile record, as their meal ended, the veteran detective’s gut told him Miller was not their man.

Clark Schwartzkopf: Seeing him with his daughter. … I just don’t see this guy as being the monster in 1992 and ’93 that would do this to these women.

Miller gave Schwartzkopf a quick tour of his Zombie Hunter mobile, and the two parted ways with the detective saying he’d be in touch. The cold case unit sent Miller’s water glass off to the crime lab.

Eleven days later, Schwartzkopf says there was a call from the lab.

Clark Schwartzkopf: And we’re sitting there and we’re like, “what is this all about?”

Briana Whitney: And in this meeting, these Phoenix detectives say, as a joke, “Huh, they must have solved the canal murders.”

But Detective Schwartzkopf says it was no joke when the head of the lab arrived.

Clark Schwartzkopf: She leans down to me, she goes, “It’s him.” I go “What?” She goes, “Bryan Miller, it’s him.” … Well, the blood rushed from my head. … I kind of sat back and I went, “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

Bryan Miller’s DNA from that water glass matched the DNA recovered from Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas more than 20 years before. Miller was arrested within hours. During a police interview shortly after, Miller was told why he’d been taken into custody in connection with the canal murders.

DETECTIVE: We have DNA that links you to those two ladies.

BRYAN MILLER: I don’t see how that’s possible.

Clark Schwartzkopf: He just kind of … went through it in his dopey kind of, I don’t know what you’re kind of talking about.

DETECTIVE: Would help you get it off your chest if you did something like that.

BRYAN MILLER: I didn’t kill anyone.

DETECTIVE: You didn’t kill anybody?

BRYAN MILLER: No.

Investigators got a search warrant for Miller’s house, the home he shared with his teenage daughter and just about everything he’d ever collected in his life.

Clark Schwartzkopf: I can remember like it was yesterday walking up to the front door and everybody going, “you can’t get in that way” … “It’s full of crap.”

Morgan Loew: Bryan Miller’s house was like it came from the show “Hoarders.”

Clark Schwartzkopf: There was a little pass where you could get to a bathroom and the kitchen and where the TV was, and that’s it. Everything else is just stacked to the roof with garbage.

Peter Van Sant: Did you look around and go, “This is madness?”

Clark Schwartzkopf: Not only madness, I go, “This is a nightmare.”

Schwartzkopf and his investigators would have to sift through all of it looking for other possible evidence. Detective Schwartzkopf also focused on a new source — someone Miller himself had ominously singled out in his interview.

BRYAN MILLER (to detective): It’s the one person on the face of the earth I could probably honestly say I hate.

Miller’s ex-wife Amy, who would end up revealing gruesome details from Miller’s violent past.

Clark Schwartzkopf: He had told her about the murder of a young girl who had come to his door accidentally.

BRYAN MILLER’S VIOLENT PAST REVEALED

In January 2015, more than 21 years after the canal murders, Bryan Miller was charged with first-degree murder in both Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas’ deaths. Melanie’s friend Rachel Schepemaker says she felt a wave of relief.

Rachel Schepemaker: A very joyous moment of “Oh my gosh, this is what we’ve been waiting for, for decades upon decades.”

Detective Schwartzkopf wanted to talk to the one person who probably knew Miller best, his ex-wife Amy.

Clark Schwartzkopf: They had been married for eight years. There was a divorce.

Amy told Schwartzkopf that she was just 19 when she met Bryan Miller in 1996. They married less than a year later and moved to Everett, Washington. Amy had a shocking revelation for the detective. She told Schwartzkopf Miller had revealed a gruesome secret to her: that he had killed a young girl in Phoenix years earlier, before he’d ever met Amy. Schwartzkopf says Amy never reported it to police before for a number of reasons; she didn’t know if it was true, she was afraid of Miller and she said she wanted to be a good wife.

Clark Schwartzkopf: You support your man no matter what.

Detective Schwartzkopf says Amy told him what Miller had said.

Clark Schwartzkopf: That a young girl had come to his door. … That he had grabbed this young female, pulled her in, killed her immediately.

Amy said Miller told her he dismembered the girl and disposed of her remains in trash left on the curb. Although Amy claimed Miller never told her the child’s name, investigators used the information Amy provided to piece together who Miller may have been talking about.

Briana Whitney: Thirteen-year-old Brandy Myers was a little girl collecting money for a school book-a-thon in her north Phoenix neighborhood, going door to door.

Kristin Dennis: I was a tomboy, and she was a girlie girl.

Brandy’s sister, Kristin Dennis.

Kristin Dennis: So, she would try to learn how to climb trees or jump fences because she wanted to play with me. She was my best friend.

It was May 26, 1992, six months prior to the murder of Angela Brosso. Miller was living in the halfway house following his time in juvenile detention for the aggravated assault of Celeste Bentley.

Kristin Dennis: This is one block from our school, his home, and then three blocks is our house. So, every single day, we walked right by here.

Dennis says Brandy left home alone that evening, never to return.

Kristin Dennis: She was last seen two doors down from Bryan’s … walking in the direction of his house.

Despite an extensive search, Brandy’s body was never found. Schwartzkopf says even though Amy couldn’t provide a name, the clues in her account add up to just one conclusion.

Clark Schwartzkopf: I believe that person is in fact, Brandy Myers.

Her sister believes that as well.

Kristin Dennis: Brandy went to the landfill … like something of no importance.

Even with Amy’s account, investigators did not have enough evidence to charge Miller in Brandy’s disappearance.

Clark Schwartzkopf: So, the fact that she was disposed of … there’s nothing physical, nothing forensically to grab onto.

“48 Hours” contacted Miller who said he had no involvement in Brandy’s disappearance and never confessed to Amy that he had killed a young girl. But there is another case in Miller’s past.

Morgan Loew: In 2002, a woman named Melissa Ruiz-Ramirez is walking down the street in Everett at night … Somebody pulls over.

It was Bryan Miller. Ruiz-Ramirez would later tell police she’d seen him before, talking to a friend of hers. Ruiz-Ramirez said she got in Miller’s car and told him she needed to make a call and he drove her to his workplace so she could use the phone.

Morgan Loew: She tells police she’s on the phone and from out of the clear blue, Bryan Miller comes running out with a 12-inch serrated kitchen knife and stabs her in the back. They fight over … the weapon.

Ruiz-Ramirez said she escaped and contacted police. They picked up Miller shortly after. He didn’t deny stabbing Ruiz-Ramirez, but claimed it was self-defense. He said he was at work when Ruiz-Ramirez walked in off the street and asked to make a call.

Clark Schwartzkopf: He said … she goes to use a phone. And then … all of a sudden out of the clear blue … she tries to rob him with a knife.

Miller was arrested and charged with first degree assault with a deadly weapon. He was jailed from May 2002 until his December trial.

Clark Schwartzkopf: The jury just didn’t buy Melissa’s story. … It was a “he said, she said” … and they acquitted him of the charge.

Amy says a chilling change followed Miller’s return home. She said it began with the letters she’d received from her jailed husband while he awaited trial.

Clark Schwartzkopf: They first started out as … professing his innocence, and then it would turn into sexual deviance. Like, here’s what I’m going to do when I get out to you.

Amy told Schwarzkopf that Miller followed up his words with action.

Clark Schwartzkopf: She said he came back with an unbelievable, ugly, dark sexual deviant side that she’d never seen before.

Clark Schwartzkopf: There were times where there was sex between them where he held a knife to her throat.

Amy told Schwartzkopf that Miller claimed something happened to him as a child — something that would become the cornerstone of his defense for murdering Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas. His unique defense? His mother had created a monster.

THE TRIAL OF THE ZOMBIE HUNTER

At the start of Bryan Miller’s trial for the murders of Angela Brosso and Melanie Bernas in October 2022, his attorneys opened with a startling defense—they admitted their client was the canal killer.

Morgan Loew: They had to concede right off the bat that he is the actual killer, but that he was not guilty by reason of insanity.

His defense attorneys say Miller was tortured by his mother Ellen as a child, and that led to his violent sexual behavior. She died in 2010.

Morgan Loew: If you imagine the making of a monster, this is kind of the household … that story begins in.

Miller told investigators after his arrest that the beatings began when he was just 5 years old.

Morgan Loew: She was a detention officer. Discipline in their house was mental as well as physical.

BRYAN MILLER (to detective): She used her security belt, and it was like a law enforcement belt, and usually I got hit by the buckle.

The defense opted for a bench trial, which meant there would be no jury. His lawyers told Judge Suzanne Cohen that Miller’s mother also exposed her young son to violent sexual content.

Morgan Loew: He was exposed to her interests in pornography and extremely violent films.

Miller’s lawyers said his mother’s abuse caused Miller to develop severe mental health problems.

Bethany Brand: He feels like there are different TVs playing in his head.

Psychologist Bethany Brand testified that Miller developed a condition known as dissociative amnesia — an inability to remember some traumatic events. Morgan Loew summed up the defense argument.

Morgan Loew: There were two Bryans. There’s the one you see over there at the defense table, who’s a fairly normal person who has friends, who had a job, who was a dad, who was a husband. … And then there’s the killer. There’s bad Bryan.

And Miller, claimed his attorneys, had no memory—none—of the two murders he was charged with.

Prosecutors undermine the defense claim that Miller has no memory of the killings. They point out that he remembers details related to other stabbings.

Remember, Miller admitted stabbing Celeste Bentley when he was 16 years old, and in 2002 he had also testified about the stabbing of Melissa Ruiz-Ramirez in Washington.

To show Miller’s deviant side, prosecutors called the only person in the world Miller said he despised: his ex-wife Amy. The judge did not allow cameras to record her face. Under questioning by prosecutor Elizabeth Reamer, Amy testified that later in their marriage, Miller grew increasingly violent during sex.

ELIZABETH REAMER: Did you ever say anything to him about wanting it to stop because it was scary?

AMY MILLER: No.

ELIZABETH REAMER: Why not?

AMY MILLER: I was avoiding any confrontation with him at all at that point and (sighs) wanted to be as compliant as possible so that I would say, will he love me enough not to kill me?

ELIZABETH REAMER: Did he ask permission prior to using needles on you?

AMY MILLER: No.

ELIZABETH REAMER: Did he ask permission prior to tying you up?

AMY MILLER: No.

ELIZABETH REAMER: What percentage of your sex life after he got out of jail in Washington included bondage, the pins or other things that were not the normal sex you’d been having early in your marriage?

AMY MILLER: Probably at least 95 percent.

The trial continued and after 6 months and 36 witnesses, the judge delivered her verdict.

JUDGE COHEN: As to count one, first-degree murder Angela Brosso is as follows: guilty. … As to count two, first-degree murder victim Melanie Bernas as follows: guilty.

Peter Van Sant: How did Bryan Miller react to the guilty verdict?

Morgan Loew: He didn’t react. … He didn’t give any real emotion.

But Angela’s mother, who addressed the court remotely, was emotional.

LINDA BROSSO STROCK: The defendant broke my heart … took all hope and light from me and my family. The hole in my heart is so big and empty.

Melanie’s older sister Jill Bernas also spoke remotely about how painful it was that Melanie’s life ended violently at the age of 17.

JILL BERNAS CANETTA: For 30 years now, we’ve had to live without Melanie because the defendant murdered her … Words cannot even begin to describe the level of excruciating pain we experienced with the news of her horrific death.

Miller—who didn’t take the stand during his trial—was allowed to give a statement before he was sentenced.

BRYAN MILLER: I am not looking for sympathy today. This time is for the family and friends of the victims. I cannot imagine what pain they have endured for all these years. … I know I am different. … I thought it had to do with what my mother did to me.

Defense counsel RJ Parker urged Judge Cohen to show mercy before she delivered her judgement on Miller’s sentence, life in prison or death.

RJ PARKER: You do not have to kill Bryan in order to see justice done.

Judge Cohen agreed with the centerpiece of the defense case.

JUDGE COHEN: The defendant’s abuse as a child was proven.

But eight months after the trial began, Miller’s abuse at the hands of his mother did not dissuade Judge Cohen from handing down the ultimate sentence.

JUDGE COHEN: There is no question that what the defendant did deserves the death penalty.

JUDGE COHEN: Mr. Miller, anything you wish to say to the court?

BRYAN MILLER: I guess, thanks for, uh, listening to everything that was said and giving us at least the opportunity to try and convince you otherwise.

Det. Clark Schwartzkopf: Justice was carried out in this case.

Detective Schwartzkopf hopes family and friends of Angela and Melanie might finally find some peace — people like Melanie’s friend Rachael Schepemaker.

Rachel Schepemaker: Just knowing that justice was served … it doesn’t make anything easier.

Peter Van Sant: How do you want your good friend to be remembered?

Rachel Schepemaker: Just that she’s the all-American good kid.

Rachel Schepemaker: I want her family to know that we haven’t forgotten her … She changed us all for the better … She was a gift.

Under Arizona law, Bryan Miller’s death sentence will be automatically appealed.


Produced by Paul LaRosa, Susan Mallie and Kat Teurfs. Cindy Cesare is the development producer. Anthony Venditti is the content research manager. Morgan Canty and Cameron Rubner are the associate producers. Michelle Harris, Marcus Balsam, Phil Tangel and Mike Baluzy are the editors. Anthony Batson is the senior producer.Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.

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