Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Brianna Denison


Born June 29, 1981, in Chicago, Ill., James Michael Biela was 9 when his family moved to Reno. Later in life, he could be the life of a party or a barroom gathering, known as a funny guy who took martial arts classes. But he was also known to have a quick temper, and some described him as a bully. He joined the Marine Corps after high school and was promoted to the rank of lance corporal, but was discharged in 2001 for drug use.

James Michael Biela in 2003
James Michael Biela in 2003
In 2002, upon his return to Reno, Biela came to the attention of authorities when he drunkenly threatened a former girlfriend's neighbor with a knife and was arrested. The former girlfriend filed for a restraining order against him, and he pleaded guilty in April 2003 to a misdemeanor charge involving the knife incident. Biela was sentenced to alcohol counseling and ordered to have no contact with the victim for a year, but no DNA samples were collected because the plea was only to a misdemeanor.

Following his earlier run-ins with the law, Biela lived with a new girlfriend in Sparks, east of Reno, and they had a son together. Neighbors described him as a "nice, normal guy," and no one noticed anything peculiar about him, even the police officers who trained alongside him in martial arts classes.

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