VanCallis’ lawyer grills cop on lack of DNA evidence

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Mount Clemens — The lawyer for the man accused of killing a 14-year-old girl on a popular Macomb hiking trail emphasized in court Friday that there are holes in evidence tying his client to the crime.

Azhar Sheikh grilled three experts about the lack of DNA evidence linking James VanCallis to the death of April Millsap in July 2014.

He asked Michael Kusluski, a civilian Michigan State Police investigator, about the expectation that Millsap’s killer would have left some evidence at the scene of the crime.

“Would you expect something from the assailant would have been left behind?” Sheikh asked.

“Yes,” said Kusluski, who was among investigators photographing the scene.

“Sometimes (perpetrators) leave a trace but sometimes things get lost,” Kusluski said during the third day of testimony in the trial of the 34-year-old St. Clair County resident.

Sheikh contends there is no DNA evidence that ties VanCallis to Millsap’s death.

VanCallis is on trial for murder, kidnapping and the attempted sexual assault of Millsap. She died of neck compression and blunt head trauma. Her body was discovered around 8 p.m. July 24, 2014 in a wooded area of the Macomb Orchard Trail.

A Macomb County sheriff’s deputy and canine handler testified Friday that one of his dogs found Millsap’s broken cellphone. But, under cross-examination from Sheikh, Cliff Morgan said the dog did not pick up a scent leading to VanCallis’ home.

Another sheriff’s deputy, Joseph Bosek, who found Millsap’s black backpack near Fulton Road, said he did not find any evidence in the backpack connecting it to VanCallis.

Also on Friday, jurors viewed crime scene photos that included the teen’s body. Several of the jurors held hands to their mouths as they saw the forensic photos.

Millsap’s mother, Jennifer, was comforted by family members as investigators revealed graphic details about how the woman’s young daughter was found.

The young girl’s top was torn or ripped off and pulled down to her waist .Her shorts and underwear were pulled down to her ankles. Her shoes were found about 10 feet away.

Kuluski said he noticed the teen had injuries to her face and blood was found near her mouth. Investigators have said the girl was stomped to death.

Millsap’s body was found around 8:20 p.m. July 24 in an area just off the Macomb Orchard Trail in Armada Township. Witnesses last saw her talking to a man fitting VanCallis’ description about two hours before her body was found.

The teen’s body was in thick brush off what is known as Liberty Path, which intersects with Macomb Orchard Trail, a popular walking and biking path. .

“At first you could really not tell what it was,” testified Armada Township police officer Phil Neumeyer, the first officer to get to the crime scene.

Under cross-examination by Sheikh, Neumeyer said he did not see any tire tracks at the scene. VanCallis owned a dirt bike that was similar to a bike a tipster reported seeing that day in the area Millsap was found.

By the time the girl’s body was found, the area was dark and floodlights had to be brought in to help process the crime scene, Kusluski said.

The 911 call from the man who found Millsap’s body was played in court Friday.

Matthew Sadaj and his wife were exercising on the trail when the girl’s whimpering dog, Penny, came up to the couple from the area where the girl lay dead.

Initially, the man said, he thought Millsap was a mannequin when he followed her dog to her body.

The man, thinking Millsap was alive, tried to get her to wake up asking, “Are you OK? Do you need help?” before he realized Millsap was dead.

Just before police believe Millsap was killed, she texted her boyfriend an ominous message that read “I’m think I almost got kidnapped.”

Police say VanCallis was planning to rape Millsap when he confronted her on the trail, but a witness interrupted the attempted assault.

The girl rebuffed VanCallis and walked away, but he followed and ambushed her from behind, using his motorbike helmet as a weapon, police believe. VanCallis, according to authorities, moved Millsap into a wooded area, where he beat and stomped her.

It is not yet known if VanCallis will take the witness stand in his own defense.

Testimony in the trial, expected to last two more weeks, continues at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

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