ARMADA (WWJ) - The Michigan appeals court won't disturb the conviction and life sentence of a man who killed a 14-year-old girl along a popular northern Macomb County nature trail.
The court issued a ruling this week, saying they found no errors that would warrant the reversal of James VanCallis' conviction. He was found guilty in Feburary 2016 and sentenced to life in prison on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and assault with intent to rape in the death of April Millsap.
VanCallis, 36, appealed his conviction on multiple grounds, saying, among other things, that no physical evidence tied him to the crime and that witnesses used by the prosecution were not credible.
"Although there was no physical evidence tying defendant to the crime, there was plenty of circumstantial evidence from which a jury could conclude that defendant was the perpetrator," the court wrote in the ruling.
"Defendant complains that there was no competent evidence tying him to the crime, but it is clear that he really argues that the prosecution's witnesses were not worthy of belief and that there were simply too many inferences to support his conviction. ... Based on reasonable inferences, there was sufficient evidence that defendant was the killer."
Authorities said VanCallis hit Millsap with a motorcycle helmet and stomped on her on July 24, 2014 while she was walking her dog along the Macomb Orchard Trail in Armada. Authorities believe Millsap was killed during a failed attempt to rape her.
The teen was reported missing by her mother after she failed to return home from her walk, and her body was found hours later in a drainage ditch near Fulton and Depot roads. Millsap's dog, Penny, alerted a pair of joggers to the girl's remains.
A police officer testified that the teen's blouse "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." A medical examiner ruled she died from blunt head trauma and asphyxia due to neck compression.
Less than a month later, police named VanCallis — who was arrested alongside his father on marijuana charges — as a person of interest in Millsap's death. He was officially charged that October.
No DNA evidence linked 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.
Police received roughly 1,000 tips on the case, including video from a resident which showed VanCallis on his motorcycle that day.
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