MT. CLEMENS (WWJ) – A St. Clair County man has been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a 14-year-old girl along a popular northern Macomb County nature trail.
A Macomb County Judge Mary Chrzanowski, Wednesday afternoon, delivered the mandatory sentence to James VanCallis, who was convicted last month of first-degree murder, kidnapping and assault with intent to rape in April Millsap’s death.
Speaking to VanCallis prior to the sentencing, Millsap’s mother, Jennifer Millsap delivered an emotional statement.
“I hope those steel bars are you only friends,” she said, through tears. “I hope when you close your eyes you see only April, over, and over, and over again…I hope that the inmates know exactly what you did, because I hear their punishment can be very ugly.”
She spoke highly of her daughter’s character.
“She was a loving, kind and beautiful young lady. You stole her future and all she had to give,” Jennifer Millsap said. “I will never get to see her graduate from high school and college. I will never get to see her get married and have children of her own, if that is what she chose.”
“I know that the Bible tells us that we are supposed to forgive those who wrong us…but what you took from us is unforgivable,” she said. “…My life will never be the same.”
Given his chance to speak, VanCallis insisted that he did not kill the teen; that he didn’t even know her.
“First off is that there is no evidence that shows that I have done anything wrong. There is no one that can say I committed any crime,” VanCallis said. “None of the witnesses could positively, positively identify me.”
“This is a sad chain of events that somehow I’m wrapped up in,” he said. “I don’t know how to have the Millsap family understand that I don’t know her, I never met her, I’ve never seen her before.”
Continuing his statement, VanCallis suggested that some of the evidence against him had been falsified.
“There’s a fraud that’s been perpetuated in this case,” VanCallis said.
He was cut off by the judge who told him that he was not there to re-try the case.
Authorities said VanCallis hit April Millsap with a motorcycle helmet and stomped on her in July 2014 while she was walking her dog along the Macomb Orchard Trail in Armada. The teen was reported missing by her mother after she failed to return home from her dog walk, and her body was found hours later in a drainage ditch near Fulton and Depot roads. April Millsap’s dog, Penny, alerted a pair of joggers to the girl’s remains.
A medical examiner ruled April Millsap died from blunt head trauma and asphyxia due to neck compression.
The 34-year-old St. Clair County man earlier this week told WWJ Newsradio from his jail cell that he was set up.
“I’ve been quiet this whole time, thinking I’d get a fair day in court. Obviously, that didn’t play out,” VanCallis told WWJ’s Charlie Langton. “They got the wrong person.”
A defense lawyer has said there’s no DNA evidence linking VanCallis to Millsap’s death. However, three witnesses said they saw him talking with Millsap along the trail shortly before her body was discovered, and a shoe print on Millsap’s body also matched the “unique” print of athletic shoe worn by VanCallis, prosecutors said.
“They didn’t see me, trust me, they didn’t see me,” said VanCallis. “After they arrested me on the marijuana, and then they all change their story.”
One of the star witnesses against VanCallis was his ex-girlfriend Krystal Stadler, but he says she was threatened by the prosecution into giving false testimony.
“She was basically coached into saying what she said. I mean, you can see that right from the gate,” said VanCallis.
Stadler told the court she saw VanCallis cleaning his shoes the night of the murder, but he offered a simple explanation that’s not criminal.
“I was cleaning my K-Swiss tennis shoes,” said VanCallis. “When I came home that night, I stepped in dog feces and I wiped it off on the grass and then I set them outside. And then later I came out to retrieve them and was actually cleaning them.”
Because he was convicted of first-degree murder, the judge has no discretion and must deliver a sentence of life in prison without parole. VanCallis said he’s going to continue to fight to clear his name.
“I want a new trial. All the shenanigans that were played during the trial were unacceptable and unethical,” he said.
Millsap’s family declined to comment, saying they’d rather wait to speak up at the sentencing hearing. VanCallis still had a message for them.
“I’m sorry for their loss. I hope that they catch who did this. It’s a horrible thing that happened but she ain’t getting justice because they got the wrong person that they’re convicting and the real perpetrator is out there,” he said.
Following his sentencing, VanCallis said he will appeal.