ARMADA (WWJ) – A text, a shoe and a video could be key pieces of evidence against a man accused of murdering and attempting to rape April Millsap, 14.
That man, James Donald VanCallis, 32, appeared in Macomb County Court Monday morning facing a preliminary examination on murder and attempted rape charges. If the judge finds there is enough evidence to support the charges, VanCallis will be bound over for trial.
“My office intends to present physical, electronic and eyewitness testimony and evidence placing VanCallis at the scene of the murder with the victim at the time of the murder,” Prosecutor Eric Smith told WWJ’s Charlie Langton.
Langton pointed out that a distinctive shoe VanCallis was allegedly wearing left a print at the scene. Also key pieces of evidence are a text sent from Millsap’s phone where she said she was being kidnapped, and a photo purported to show VanCallis with the victim’s cell phone after her death, Langton said.
Millsap was reported missing July 24 by her mother after she failed to return home from walking her dog, Penny, which she did nearly every night. Her body was found hours later in a drainage ditch along the Macomb Orchard Trail near Fulton and Depot roads in Armada. Penny alerted a couple of joggers to the girl’s body.
Less than a month later, police named VanCallis — who was arrested alongside his father on drug charges after a search connected to the murder revealed an alleged marijuana growing operation at their home — as a person of interest in Millsap’s death.
Millsap died of blunt head trauma and asphyxia due to neck compression, according to a medical examiner’s report.
VanCallis maintains his innocence, but three witnesses say they saw him talking with Milsap along the trail shortly before her body was discovered.
Witness William Buchanan, who bikes the trail, testified that VanCallis seemed panicked and out of place.
“I was watching him for a mile, and I as I approached, I was looking at him in the face for quite some time,” Buchanan said. “I remember large eyes…a face of not relaxed, not looking away. He was totally focused on me, too, which was unusual.”
Also among those to take the stand Monday was Armada Police Officer Phil Neumeyer, who testified to the state in which her body was found.
“Her shirt, her blouse I guess, was torn from her body and moved to around her waist area. Her undergarment had been removed from around her waist and were down about the ankles,” Neumeyer said.
Earlier Monday, Milsap’s mother, Jennifer, testified about the text message.
A total of 12 witnesses are expected to be called during VanCallis’ preliminary exam — to determine if the St. Clair County man will stand trial for murder.
Testimony was expected to continue into Tuesday.
“My office intends to present physical, electronic and eyewitness testimony and evidence, placing VanCallis at the scene of the murder with the victim at the time of the murder,” Smith said. “I’m confident that these charges will be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Howard Smith, Armada Police Chief, thanked everyone involved in the investigation at the time VanCallis was charged.
“Working together as one strong unit has been fantastic. The fact that the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office and the St. Clair County Prosecutor’s Office was able to work with us after the first search warrant where we found the illegal grow operation, made things much easier for us,” Howard Smith said. “We trust that we’re moving forward from here to a very successful prosecution.”