Peoria woman accused of killing cousin released from jail

A Peoria woman accused of murdering her cousin was released from jail while police get more evidence but that has the victim's family frustrated.
Published: Jul. 11, 2022 at 6:57 PM MST
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PEORIA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Peter McKenna misses his son, a Marine veteran who was brutally killed in May. The victim’s cousin, Brianna Zerth, was arrested for his murder but later released from jail. McKenna is now pushing for justice for his son. “My son is supposed to be burying me, not the other way around,” said McKenna.

Zerth told investigators she was drinking with her cousin Peter McKenna Jr. all day when they got into a fight. Court documents show that the victim was hit several times with the back of a hammer, and blood was found all over the walls of the home. “They mentioned to me the way in which my son was murdered. I couldn’t believe it,” said McKenna.

Zerth was charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault and tampering with evidence but was later released from jail. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office pushed the case back to the Peoria Police Department for more information. A spokesperson sent Arizona’s Family this statement:

“The County Attorney’s Office received a submittal from the Peoria Police Department on Brianna Zerth for an incident that occurred on May 4. The submitted charges were second-degree murder, aggravated assault and tampering with evidence. Prosecutors reviewed the evidence and referred the case back to law enforcement for additional information. Our office has had regular contact with the next of kin in this case, and we acknowledge the criminal justice system can be frustrating. We will make a decision on this case upon receiving the additional information requested.”

One former prosecutor said this is not uncommon. “When a prosecutor makes a charging decision the criteria is the reasonable likelihood of conviction,” said Mel McDonald.

According to the examination report, Zerth claims McKenna Jr. choked her during the fight. “Person has a right to use deadly force in self-defense, and when she claimed there had been significant trauma, possible choking and the examiner found corroboration for that, as a prosecutor, you want to have those issues resolved,” said McDonald.

In June, Zerth was arrested again and charged with an attempt to commit aggravated assault after reportedly trying to run someone over with a car. McKenna Jr.’s dad said this is more reason to put her behind bars. “I want justice for my son; I am angry, frustrated,” said McKenna.

The Peoria Police Department said it plans to resubmit charges for the May incident.