Arizona woman arrested for allegedly killing cousin with claw hammer

A 30-year-old woman from Arizona has been arrested for the alleged murder of her 33-year-old cousin, who was beaten to death with a claw hammer last year. Brianna Elise Zerth was taken into custody on Friday after being indicted on charges of second-degree intentional murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and tampering with physical evidence. The arrest comes after Zerth was initially charged but later released due to a lack of evidence. However, new information has led to her re-arrest in connection with the slaying of Peter McKenna Jr.

On May 5, 2022, officers from the Peoria Police Department responded to a call about a deceased man at a residence in Arizona. The victim, Peter McKenna Jr., was found with multiple blunt-force trauma injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. A preliminary investigation revealed that Zerth, who is related to the victim, lived in the same home where McKenna’s body was discovered. Zerth had made the initial call to the police and was subsequently taken into custody.

Following her arrest, Zerth was released when prosecutors declined to formally charge her due to insufficient evidence. The County Attorney’s Office stated that they needed additional information from law enforcement before making a decision on the case. However, court documents obtained later revealed that McKenna had suffered puncture wounds to his back, inflicted with a claw hammer found at the scene. Blood spatter was also discovered on the walls and floor of the residence.

Zerth reportedly told the police that she and McKenna had been drinking alcohol the previous night and got into a fight. She claimed that the details were unclear, but she woke up to find McKenna dead on the floor in a pool of blood. Zerth said she covered his body and cleaned the area to protect her 6-year-old daughter from seeing the gruesome scene. She then contacted the authorities. Zerth later claimed that McKenna had been strangling her during the altercation, causing significant trauma, which was corroborated by the medical examiner. However, this self-defense claim posed a challenge for prosecutors, leading them to seek additional information from the police.

Despite being released in relation to McKenna’s murder, Zerth found herself in legal trouble again. In June 2022, she was arrested for allegedly attempting to run over her ex-boyfriend with her car. Zerth faced charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and endangerment. Eventulaly, she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and received probation.

Zerth is scheduled to appear in court for her arraignment on Wednesday. The County Prosecutor’s Office and Peoria Police Department have not yet responded to inquiries regarding the new information that led to Zerth’s re-arrest in connection with McKenna’s murder.