Judge: Man charged in canal killings mentally fit for trial

Posted at 3:25 PM, January 6, 2022 and last updated 7:25 AM, June 13, 2023

By JACQUES BILLEAUD Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — A judge has found that a man charged with sexually attacking and fatally stabbing two young women in separate killings nearly 30 years ago near a canal system in metro Phoenix is mentally fit to stand trial.

In a ruling Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Suzanne Cohen agreed with two court-appointed mental health experts that Bryan Patrick Miller is psychologically competent to be tried on charges in the deaths of 22-year-old Angela Brosso in November 1992 and 17-year-old Melanie Bernas in September 1993.

FILE – This undated booking photo provided by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office shows Bryan Patrick Miller, who faces murder and other charges in the stabbing deaths of two young women in northwest Phoenix in the early 1990s. On Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, a judge found Miller is now competent to stand trial, though the court hasn’t yet ruled on ruled on a request by prosecutors to bar Miller from claiming that he was insane at the time the crimes were committed. Miller has maintained that he’s innocent and has pleaded not guilty to the charges. (Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office via AP,File)

Another expert who was working with Miller’s defense team couldn’t rule out the possibility that he was faking a mental disorder, the judge wrote.

Even though Cohen resolved the question of whether Miller is now competent for trial, she hasn’t yet ruled on a request by prosecutors to prohibit Miller from claiming at trial that he was insane at the time the crimes were committed.

A prosecutor has characterized Miller’s insanity defense bid as a delay tactic, saying Miller’s lawyers didn’t bring up such a defense until six years after the case was filed.

In a court filing in September, Miller’s attorneys denied trying to delay their client’s trial and said another expert working with the defense team will offer an opinion that Miller has dissociative amnesia, a mental disorder in which a person can’t remember traumatic events.

In ruling on Miller’s current mental fitness, Cohen wrote, “other than the claimed inability to remember the charged offenses, defendant presently has a rational understanding of the charges against him and the nature of the proceedings.”

In an evaluation conducted by a defense expert, Miller denied having amnesia and appeared annoyed by the suggestion that he may have dissociative amnesia. The expert conceded Miller might be been faking amnesia, the judge wrote.

R.J. Parker, one of Miller’s attorneys, didn’t return phone messages seeking comment on the mental fitness ruling.

Authorities said DNA evidence links Miller to the deaths Brosso and Bernas.

Police said Miller denied any involvement in the killings but acknowledged living in the vicinity at the time and said he rode his bike on bike paths in the area.

Miller has maintained he is innocent and pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping and attempted sexual assault. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Brosso and Bernas disappeared in north Phoenix near the Arizona Canal. Brosso 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 semen evidence collected in the aftermath of both crimes showed the attacks were linked to the same suspect.

The killings faded from public attention after police were unable to link the DNA profile collected from the scenes to a specific suspect. The Phoenix Police Department’s cold-case unit was on the cases again in 2011, according to court records.

In 2014, a genealogist who uses ancestry databases in her research was given access to the DNA gathered in the investigations and eventually came up with the last name Miller. Bryan Miller had been on the police department’s list of investigative leads in the case, according to court records.

Authorities have said Miller was charged with but ultimately acquitted in the 2002 stabbing of a woman in Everett, Washington, after saying the woman tried to rob him.

The Washington state case didn’t require him to submit a DNA sample because he was acquitted. He later moved back to Arizona.