Lawyer for Millsap suspect quits case

Romeo – — The mother of the man accused in the death of an Armada teen said they can no longer afford the lawyer defending her son.

James Donald VanCallis, who police say hit 14-year-old April Millsap in the head, dragged her into the woods and beat her to death, appeared in 42nd District Court in Romeo for a pre-exam conference Thursday.

During the short proceeding, his lawyer, Dean Ankouny, asked 42nd District Judge Denis LeDuc to appoint an attorney to represent VanCallis and then withdrew as counsel.

Ankouny didn't divulge after the conference the reason behind him stepping down, but VanCallis' mother said it was a matter of money.

"Defense attorneys are very expensive," said Brenda Pupi. "I don't know what else to say."

Pupi said Ankouny is representing VanCallis and his father, James Bernard VanCallis, 66, who were arrested July 30 on drug charges related to a pot-growing operation at their home in Goodells in St. Clair County.

On Oct. 20 both pleaded guilty in St. Clair County Court to manufacturing marijuana. VanCallis and his father will be sentenced on the drug charges in November.

"I won't inquire into the attorney-client relationship, but Mr. Ankouny I will grant your motion to withdraw," LeDuc said during the hearing. "This is a development that the court did not expect."

In addition to Pupi, VanCallis' father and other family members were in the court as well as April's mother, Jennifer Millsap, and stepfather, David Lichtenfelt.

VanCallis, faces three charges: first-degree premeditated murder and felony murder, both of which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, and assault with the intent to commit sexual penetration, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

VanCallis was charged last month for the murder of April. In taped testimony before a judge, Armada Police Chief Howard Smith said April was walking her dog on the Macomb Orchard Trail near Armada at 5:30 p.m. July 24. A classmate of April said the teen was talking to a man on a blue and white motorcycle. The man was identified by another witness as VanCallis, 32, Smith testified.

Smith said a distinctive shoe tread impression left by VanCallis when he allegedly stomped on April gave police one of the clues they needed to arrest him and charge him with her death.

April was in fear of her life and sent a text message at 6:28 p.m. that read: "I almost got kidnapped, OMFG."

She rebuffed VanCallis and walked away, Smith testified. VanCallis got off his motorcycle, followed her and ambushed her from behind using his helmet as a weapon. He moved her into a wooded area, where he beat and stomped her.

Smith testified VanCallis continued to beat her until she was dead. VanCallis then stole April's cellphone and backpack and fled the scene.

Around the time police believe the assault took place, a witness saw VanCallis in the woods where the body was found about 20 feet off the trail, according to the chief's testimony. That witness worked with a forensic artist to develop a composite sketch, which resembled VanCallis.

VanCallis is believed to have been trying to sexually assault April, but was interrupted by the witness, he said

April died of blunt head trauma and asphyxia due to neck compression, according to the Macomb County Medical Examiner's Office.

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