Ex-Doraville officer found guilty in kidnap and death of 16-year-old Susana Morales

Miles Bryant was sentenced to life without parole
Former Doraville police officer Miles Bryant was found guilty by a Gwinnett County jury on Wednesday, June 12, 2024, of killing and kidnapping 16-year-old Susana Morales.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Former Doraville police officer Miles Bryant was found guilty by a Gwinnett County jury on Wednesday, June 12, 2024, of killing and kidnapping 16-year-old Susana Morales.

After a week of trial, a Gwinnett County jury found former Doraville police officer Miles Bryant guilty of killing and kidnapping 16-year-old Susana Morales.

Bryant, 23, was found guilty of malice murder, felony murder, kidnapping and false report of a crime. The jury found Bryant not guilty of criminal attempt to commit rape.

Judge Tamela Adkins sentenced Bryant to life in prison without parole. Bryant was wearing a Gwinnet County jail jumpsuit once he came back out for sentencing.

“I just want to apologize to everybody (and) to the victim’s family,” Bryant said.

Susana Morales, 16, went missing the evening of July 26, 2022. Her body was found just over six months later, more than 20 miles from where she was last seen. A former Doraville police officer has been arrested in connection with her death.

Credit: Rosana Hughes/AJC

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Credit: Rosana Hughes/AJC

Morales went missing the night of July 26, 2022 after telling her mother that she was walking back home from a friend’s home at the Sterling Glen apartment complex, less than a mile from her house.

Morales’ mother Maria Guadalupe Bran thanked the prosecutors and the jury for reaching a verdict.

“It’s been very difficult since the first day my daughter disappeared,” Bran told Adkins through tears before Bryant was sentenced. “Every night I can’t sleep without thinking of her.”

Adkins asked to be able to speak directly to Bran.

“I cannot imagine the torture and pain you have endured,” Adkins told Bran. “Susana did not deserve this. I just hope that after today, you and your family, can find some peace. That is what I wish for you. Hopefully, you will receive some peace now.”

Prosecutors argued that, on the way home, Bryant kidnapped Morales, threw her phone out of the window and drove her out to a wooded area near Dacula before dumping her naked body.

“Mr. Bryant was supposed to protect. He was supposed to be the person helping, but instead, he did exactly the opposite,” said special prosecutor Brandon Delfunt before Adkins sentenced Bryant. “The devastation that he has left is unimaginable for her family and for everybody.”

Delfunt described Bryant as evil, a monster and a predator.

“For somebody like him, there is no hope. He is a monster, he is what goes bump in the night, he is a predator and I believe the only sentence that brings justice in this case is for him to be sentenced to a period life in prison without the possibility of parole,” Delfunt said.

Defense attorney Tracy Drake delivers closing arguments in the murder trial of former Doraville police officer Miles Bryant on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. A Gwinnett County jury found Bryant guilty of killing and kidnapping 16-year-old Susana Morales.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

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Credit: Channel 2 Action News

During closing arguments, Bryant’s attorney Tracy Drake admitted that her client was guilty of false reporting of a crime and admitted that Bryant had dumped Morales’ body in the woods. After the verdict and sentencing, Drake said the most damming piece of evidence was the Life360 app, which investigators used to track Morales’ last known location before her disappearance.

“Without the Life360, it would have been more difficult to show arguably where she was picked up, where she went, the crash alert. I think all of that really bolstered their case to show that obviously he did something to her,” Drake said.

At times, Drake described her client as a “disgusting” and “terrible police officer” but argued that the state’s case was simply a theory of what could have happened and their evidence was tailored towards that theory.

“The fact that he left her out there is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever heard in my life, no matter what happened to her,” Drake said during closing arguments.

During opening statements, Drake had said Bryant was going to testify, but on Monday, Bryant said he was not after being asked by Judge Adkins. Drake said the decision not to testify was made after discussing the pros and cons with her client.

“We discussed the pros and cons of him testifying and there was a possibility that some evidence that had been kept out, possibly could have come back in. We just had to weight those options,” she said.

Bryant was arrested on Feb. 13, 2023, just days after Morales’ skeletonized remains were found on Feb. 6, 2023. The remains were confirmed through dental records, but a cause of death could not be determined.

Investigators found a gun registered to Bryant close to Morales’ remains. Bryant had reported the gun stolen the morning after Morales disappeared, but had requested that a detective not to be assigned to investigate the gun’s disappearance.

Cellphone data revealed Bryant was close to the location Morales’ remains were on the night of her disappearance. Records also showed his phone was back in the area later the same morning, about an hour before he reported his firearm stolen.

Maria Guadalupe Bran cries during testimony of the trial against former Doraville police officer Miles Bryant, who is charged with murder and kidnapping in the death of Bran's daughter, Susana Morales.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

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Credit: Channel 2 Action News

The state’s star witness, lead detective Angela Carter, conducted most of the 3-hour interrogation on Bryant that was played to the jury. During the interrogation, Bryant can be heard telling Carter and investigators that he didn’t know Morales and claiming he was not in the woods that night.

“You are not a bad person Miles. This is not just an effect on you, this is an effect on all officers everywhere,” Carter tells Bryant during the interview.

“That’s not me. It’s not me,” Bryant replies to her. “I was not involved.”

Towards the end of the interrogation, Bryant is placed in handcuffs and left alone inside the interrogation room.

“Man, I cannot go down for this (expletive),” Bryant said after being handcuffed. “I’m (going to) find who did this.”

Carter testified that they never identified another suspect. As part of the investigation, searches of Bryant’s work and personal phones, as well as his work computer were conducted that revealed some of his search history in the months after Morales’ disappearance.

One of the searches found was “how long does it take a body to decompose”, while other searches were for news articles relating to Morales’ remains being found and her disappearance.