Mich. Supreme Court denies appeal by teen's killer

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court has denied the latest appeal by a man convicted in the slaying of a 14-year-old Macomb County girl in 2014, authorities announced Thursday.

James VanCallis was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2016 for April Millsap's murder. A jury had found him guilty of murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in the July 2014 beating death on a popular hiking trail near Armada.

VanCallis maintained his innocence during the sentencing, saying the court did not have enough evidence to pin him to the murder. The St. Clair County man said witnesses could not positively identify him, his clothing, or prove his motorcycle was on the hiking trail.

Convicted murderer James VanCallis, left, stands with his attorney, Azhar Sheikh, as the judge sentences him to life in prison.

His lawyer also argued there was no DNA evidence linking VanCallis to the crime.

VanCallis appealed, claiming his attorney failed to challenge the admissibility of a computer-generated animation at trial, object to a police chief’s testimony or offer an eyewitness identification expert.

In January 2018, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences. 

VanCallis filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, seeking to challenge the decision. The panel sent the case back to the Court of Appeals to consider whether his trial attorney was ineffective for failing to offer a private investigator and crime scene expert as witnesses at trial.

The Appeals Court again affirmed the convictions and found his trial counsel was not ineffective for the reasons VanCallis alleged.

VanCallis filed another application for leave to appeal with the state Supreme Court challenging the decision. On Monday, the state's High Court issued a final order denying his bid for the last time, the Macomb County Prosecutor's Office said.

“We are thankful for the Appellate Court confirming our conviction and the Supreme Court for denying any further delay in closure for the Millsap family. We hope this brings them some sense of comfort and peace," Prosecutor Eric Smith said in a statement

The April Dawn Millsap Memorial Garden, with her image on a plaque, is at the corner of Depot and South Fulton in Armada along the Macomb Orchard Trail.

“April was a special young lady that touched so many lives throughout our community. It was an honor for our team to seek justice on behalf of her family. We were proud to have named one of our victim advocacy spaces ‘April Millsap Memorial Conference Room’."

Last year, Millsap's mother was presented an honorary diploma during what have been her daughter's commencement ceremony.

A memorial garden honoring the teen also has been created along the Macomb Orchard Trail.

Millsap was found on July 24, 2014, in a drainage ditch about 20 feet from the Macomb Orchard Trail. According to police, she left her home to walk her dog on the trail. Her border collie led joggers to her body.