Jury asks to review evidence in Millsap murder trial
The jury in the April Millsap murder trial ended its first day of deliberations Friday with a request to review motorcycle and cellphone evidence presented during the roughly two weeks of proceedings.
Jurors met for about three hours before asking Macomb Circuit Judge Mary Chrzanowski to see again 22 of the 188 exhibits presented as evidence during the trial. Most of what they wanted to see had to do with testimony about the motorcycle police say VanCallis was riding when he encountered 14-year-old Millsap on the Macomb Orchard Trail.
The jurors also asked to see photographs and video from a Marathon gas station where James VanCallis is believed to have stopped to get gas before he was allegedly seen at the trail where Millsap was killed and calls from VanCallis’ and Millsap’s cellphones.
After first being told by Chrzanowski that they should be prepared to deliberate until 9 p.m., the jurors were sent home just before 5. They are scheduled to return 9 a.m. Monday.
The jury received the case early Friday afternoon after dramatic closing arguments.
Assistant Macomb County Prosecutor William Cataldo spent 90 minutes asking the six men and six women jurors to convict 34-year-old VanCallis of St. Clair County. VanCallis is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and attempted sexual assault.
Demonstrating with a black motorcycle helmet believed to have been used in the fatal beating of Millsap in July 2014, Cataldo showed jurors how he thought the helmet was used to kill the girl. He reconstructed for them what investigators believed were the girl’s last moments, which were captured through a sports application on her phone.
Cataldo says a text to her boyfriend, which read “I almost got kidnapped ... omfg,” demonstrated Millsap was in trouble.
“That told us very clearly she had been confronted, grabbed and assaulted,” Cataldo said. “He wasn’t successful the first time so he came back and tried a second time.”
A close-up autopsy photo of Millsap was shown to jurors with a bruise above one of her eyes. Cataldo said the bruise aligned with a piece of the helmet. However, there was no DNA on the helmet.
“He cleaned off the DNA,” Cataldo said. “He cleaned off April.”
Millsap died of blunt force trauma and neck compression, according to her autopsy results.
Cataldo said Millsap’s iPhone told the story and gave key clues in her murder.
“Her iPhone told us who her killer was,” Cataldo said. “Her iPhone told us it was James VanCallis.”
VanCallis’ phone was his “Benedict Arnold ... his Judas” giving investigators key pieces of evidence that led them to suspect him of the girl’s murder, including video of him wearing Nike Jordan shoes, the same ones authorities believe the girl’s killer wore.
In his closing arguments, VanCallis’ attorney, Azhar Sheikh, compared the case against his client to the Salem witch trials in colonial Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693, saying the prosecution had no DNA or evidence against his client.
“You have not heard one iota that conflicts with Mr. VanCallis’ innocence,” Sheikh said.
Sheikh also said some of the witnesses, who said they saw a man fitting the description of VanCallis with Millsap about two hours before her brutally beaten body was found in a ditch off the trail, were influenced by media reports when they talked to police.
Sheikh also attacked the credibility of testimony by Krystal Stadler, VanCallis’ ex-girlfriend and the prosecution’s star witness, who testified VanCallis told her he had “messed up” just a few hours after Millsap’s body was found. She said he also asked her to lie to police about the brand of shoes he was wearing.
“Tell ’em I was wearing K-Swiss shoes,” Stadler testified about the alleged conversation with VanCallis, the father of one of her children.
The Nike Jordan gym shoes and a Carhartt hoodie were never found by investigators.
“Show us some evidence,” Sheikh said. “That’s why we’re here. This is a court of law. There is a lack of evidence in tying this case to (VanCallis).”
Cataldo, in his arguments, said there was male DNA on the girl’s bra and tank top but not enough to get an investigative sample for police to test.
“The defense is asking you for a miracle. I’m asking you for justice for April Millsap,” he said. “I’m asking you to convict James VanCallis for the brutal murder of April Millsap.”
Millsap, an Armada resident, was found stomped to death in a ditch off the Macomb Orchard Trail around 8:30 p.m. July 24, 2014. She was walking her dog, Penny, around 6 p.m. along the popular jogging trail. Witnesses testified they saw the girl talking to a man who fit VanCallis’ description around 6:30 p.m., two hours before her body was found with her clothes partially torn from her body.
VanCallis chose to not take the stand in his defense.