August 19, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Person of interest in Armada teen's killing jailed on pot charge

James Donald Vancallis waves preliminary hearing
James Donald Vancallis waves preliminary hearing: James Donald Vancallis waves preliminary hearing on drug charges; he is a "person of interest" in the murder of Armada teen April Millsap

Port Huron — A 32-year-old man arrested on marijuana charges is a person of interest in the killing of 14-year-old April Millsap, an Armada teen whose body was found in a ditch along a hiking trail.

James Donald VanCallis was taken into custody last month after the FBI searched a home in Goodells in St. Clair County. He and his father, James Bernard VanCallis, 66, were in St. Clair County District Court Tuesday on drug charges related to a pot-growing operation at their home.

The son “is a person of interest in our investigation in Armada,” Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw said after the court proceedings. “We are looking at him.”

A second search in Goodells on Monday, he said, “is in relation to the April Millsap case and it involves the task force, which is the (Michigan State Police), FBI and Armada Police Department.”

Dean Ankouny, attorney for both men, stressed their cases have nothing to do with April’s murder, adding the VanCallis family feels harassed.

“My clients are very disappointed with the way the police have handled the investigation,” Ankouny said. “My clients’ home has been raided twice within a 2˝-week period and they are very upset about that. They feel the police are harassing them and they feel they have left their house ransacked, even though my clients have been cooperative from the beginning.”

Both men face charges out of Wales Township in St. Clair County related to a July search of their home, including delivery and manufacturer of marijuana and maintaining a drug house.

The son is classified as a habitual offender. He was twice convicted of a felony or an attempt to commit a felony for breaking and entering building in 2005. In 2012 he was convicted for failure to pay child support.

The elder VanCallis is also classified a habitual offender, having been convicted of committing or attempting to commit three or more felonies. In 1995, he was convicted of criminal sexual conduct, second degree, with a person under 13. Also in 1995, he was convicted of criminal sexual conduct, fourth degree, with a person between 13-16.

When asked about the younger VanCallis as the only person of interest in April’s case, Ankouny said police need to continue looking.

“If he is the only person of interest, why hasn’t he been charged with this crime yet?” he said. “Why has it been such a long period of time before anybody has been charged?”

The VanCallises were arrested July 30 after the FBI Detroit Division executed the first search warrant at a home about 15 miles west of Port Huron in St. Clair County. David K. Porter, FBI Detroit Division supervisory special agent, said at the time of their arrest the two were not being held in connection with April’s slaying.

In court on Tuesday, both men waived their rights to a preliminary examinations.

According to Ankouny, the two men face charges for not being in full compliance with Michigan’s medical marijuana statute.

He said both had valid medical marijuana cards at the time of the first search of their home and of their arrest.

Shaw said being a person of interest doesn’t mean guilt.

“One thing about being a defense attorney, you get to say what you want to get your client out of jail,” Shaw said. “If we didn’t have a good search warrant, a judge wouldn’t have signed it and we wouldn’t have been there.”

While the senior VanCallis is out on $75,000 bond, his son is still in custody with a $75,000 bond.

Police say April left her house July 24 to walk her dog on the trail between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. The girl’s body was found hours later in a ditch about 20 feet from the trail.

The crime has set the tiny northern Macomb County village on edge.

She died of blunt head trauma and asphyxia due to neck compression, according to a death certificate issued by the Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Shaw said that just because a person of interest has been identified in the case, the public should still be vigilant when they’re out on the hiking and biking trail.

“These trails are isolated places so just pay attention to what you are doing,” he said. “Be careful just like you would in any other surrounding. This whole incident appears to be isolated and we do have extra troopers in the area just to be on the safe side.”

Earlier this month, police dredged a private lake in an Armada subdivision.

A day earlier, police stopped vehicles at intersections throughout the village to question motorists in hopes of generating new leads.

State police are seeking information on a motorcycle that may have been in the area. Authorities also have released a composite sketch of a male with sandy-brown or reddish hair.

Shaw said the teen’s family and her boyfriend are not considered suspects in her death. He added police are still taking tips on April’s murder and have checked 800 such tips thus far.

uwatson@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2613

J.D. VanCallis / Todd McInturf / Detroit News
James Bernard Vancallis, 66, left, with his attorney, Dean Ankouny, waives ... (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
April Millsap (Facebook)