Judge to decide what evidence will be heard at ex-Doraville officer’s trial

Miles Bryant will go on trial June 3 for murder in the 2022 killing of teenager Susana Morales
Miles Bryant (right) is accused of killing 16-year-old Susana Morales.

Miles Bryant (right) is accused of killing 16-year-old Susana Morales.

A Gwinnett County Superior Court judge heard arguments Tuesday about what evidence could be used in the upcoming trial against a former Doraville police officer accused of killing a teenage girl in 2022.

Miles Bryant, 23, is suspected of kidnapping, attempting to rape and killing 16-year-old Susana Morales as she walked home from a friend’s house the evening of July 26, 2022. A week after Morales’ body was found in February 2023, Bryant was arrested when detectives said they found his personal gun in the area where her remains were discovered. He was fired the same day.

Tuesday’s hearing comes ahead of his trial, which is set to start June 3, and addressed several pending motions before the court.

One of them includes a petition by the prosecution to introduce evidence of past alleged criminal activity and troubling conduct as character evidence, which Special Assistant District Attorney Brandon Delfunt argued will show Bryant’s “motive and intent when he snuffed out Susana’s young life.”

The motion and its addendum detail more than a dozen instances of allegations against Bryant dating to 2018. They include accusations of sexual assault, burglaries and attempted burglaries, theft of women’s underwear, a disturbing encounter with a 12-year-old runaway and surreptitiously obtaining sexually explicit photos of women he detained while on duty or with whom he worked while serving in the National Guard.

Bryant’s attorneys filed their own motions in hopes of blocking a jury from hearing that evidence. They took special opposition to a rape accusation, as “the term ‘rape’ is a legal conclusion of a crime committed,” and Bryant has “never been indicted or convicted of rape.”

Delfunt agreed to limit the use of the term “rape” at trial, using it only to reference one of Bryant’s charges: conspiracy to commit rape. The attorney also conceded to the defense and withdrew an act of evidence alleging that Bryant raped a woman after a date.

Judge Tamela Adkins did not offer a ruling on the arguments presented Tuesday, but her decisions about what evidence to admit will be critical during the trial.

For the prosecution, they need to establish a pattern of alleged behavior to prove what they believe was his intent since Morales’ cause of death could not be determined. That’s because her remains were already skeletonized when they were found nearly seven months after her death.

To do that, they hope to present evidence that Bryant physically invaded the private spaces of multiple women and that he stole sexually explicit photos and videos from the phones of several alleged victims.

A string of alleged burglaries began in February 2018 when Bryant, 17 at the time, was accused of going to a high school classmate’s home and attempting to open her bedroom window. Police were called, but Bryant told them he was there to review homework, and the girl’s family declined to press charges. They did, however, ask for him to be banned from their property.

Prosecutors highlighted three more burglaries, the last of which took place in 2022. Each involved Bryant allegedly entering or attempting to enter the homes of girls or women with whom he used to attend grade school.

He’s been indicted on burglary charges in one of those cases, in which detectives said they matched the clothing worn in security footage to outfits shown in photos he posted to Facebook.

In another case, a then-16-year-old female classmate noticed “numerous pairs of her underwear were missing” after her home was broken into between 2018 and 2019, the motion states. She didn’t initially report the incident “because she was contacted by an unidentified law enforcement officer who told her that the defendant had a promising career in both the military and police and charges against the defendant would jeopardize those plans,” according to court documents.

Bryant went on to join the National Guard, where he allegedly attempted to covertly send himself photos and videos of women in various states of undress without their knowledge. At least 10 instances are detailed by prosecutors, some of which include victims he had detained as a police officer or while working off duty as a security guard.

Tuesday’s hearing also included emotional testimony from Bryant’s ex-girlfriend, who at times seemed conflicted over how to respond to questions, sometimes taking long pauses before being ordered by the judge to answer. The couple broke up in June 2022, about a month before Morales’ disappearance.

She was called to testify because investigators had uncovered videos of Bryant committing what they believed was sexual battery. But the woman did not seem willing to assent to the idea that she’d been a victim of a sex crime.

The defense attorneys contended that the sheer volume and repugnance of Bryant’s alleged behavior could unfairly bias a jury, increasing the likelihood of a conviction.

Evidence is usually narrowed to apply only to the alleged crime, and a jury would typically not hear evidence of bad character or prior, unrelated misconduct. However, that is allowed in some cases, so long as the evidence shows more than just that the accused acted in line with his or her character. Judge Adkins has to determine if this is one of those cases.

Bryant’s lawyers also argued Tuesday that what they called a “porn fetish” — referring to the accusation of stealing compromising photos from various women — was not behavior similar enough to kidnapping and murder for it to be presented to a jury.

Delfunt contended that evidence of sexual battery was a similar, violent crime.

Bryant began his career in law enforcement in 2020 as a jailer with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. He then joined Doraville police in 2021.

His arrest angered many in the community who felt Gwinnett police didn’t take Morales’ disappearance as seriously as they should have right away. Her mother said she believes her daughter’s remains may have been found sooner if the case wasn’t treated like a runaway. The police department has defended its handling of the investigation, stating that detectives followed all leads beginning the night she was reported missing.

Bryant was indicted twice, with the second time adding the attempted rape charge. His other charges include malice murder, felony murder, kidnapping and false report of a crime.

Morales’ remains were found in a wooded area near Drowning Creek just outside Dacula, more than 20 miles from where she was last seen.

While Bryant lived — and served as a security officer — at the same apartment complex where Morales had been visiting her friend, police have said there was no known connection between the two. Authorities said he was connected to the crime when his personal gun was found in the area where Morales’ remains were discovered. He had reported it stolen hours after the teen’s disappearance, which led to the charge of false report.