Victims’ family members testify in Zombie Hunter trial penalty phase

Families of Melanie Bernas and Angela Brosso described how their lives changed after their loved ones were killed in the Canal Murders.
Published: Apr. 18, 2023 at 7:36 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The penalty phase of the Zombie Hunter trial began Tuesday, with the mother of one victim and sister of the other testifying to what Bryan Patrick Miller did to their families.

“I don’t have the joys that other mothers have. We don’t celebrate holidays anymore. Not Christmas. Not Thanksgiving. Not birthdays. Why? Because Angie won’t be there,” said Linda Brosso, Angela Brosso’s mother.

Angela and Melanie Bernas were brutally murdered in 1992 and 1993 on popular Phoenix bike trails. The killings were referred to as the Phoenix Canal Murders because they took place near a canal that runs through the city.

The murders went unsolved for more than 20 years until Phoenix Police used DNA and genetic genealogy to link the crimes to Bryan Patrick Miller. Miller was a troubled 20-year-old when the murders occurred. He was linked to other attacks against women. In the years just before his arrest, Miller took part in cosplay events around Phoenix and referred to himself as the Zombie Hunter, driving an old police cruiser with a zombie mannequin in the back seat.

“Although we were relieved when the defendant was apprehended after 21 years, we then had the new experience and trauma of having the face who killed our sister to complete the images in our minds,” said Jill Bernas in court Tuesday. She is Melanie’s sister.

Bernas described the terrible impact the murder of her sister, the delay in making an arrest, and the long wait for the trial caused her family. She indicated she and other family members watched the trial outside the state through a secure internet link. “Watching the defendant sitting there very much alive, hearing about his wedding, child, travels, social life over the last 20 years - something he deprived Melanie of,” said Bernas.

Judge Suzanne Cohen listened to the victim’s impact statements. This is a bench trial, and last week, she found Miller guilty of first-degree murder. He is eligible for the death penalty, and it will be up to Cohen to decide if Miller lives or dies.

Neither Linda Brosso nor Jill Bernas referred to Miller by name, only calling him “The defendant.” They also did not specifically indicate whether they thought Miller should receive the death penalty, although prosecutors are calling for it. They did offer a glimpse of what it’s like to lose a loved one in such a violent and brutal way.

“I am not the same person I used to be. I was the luckiest and happiest person I know, because of my wonderful Angie and her beautiful attitude toward life. I am now the saddest, loneliest person that I know, because of the loss of my wonderful Angie. The defendant took my reason to live, my reason to laugh, my reason to love,” said Brosso.