With a trial date set, work begins in earnest for Allen County prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case against John D. Miller, the man accused of sexually assaulting and killing an 8-year-old Fort Wayne girl in 1988.
Miller, 59, was in Allen Superior Court on Friday for a hearing, where a judge set a two-week trial to begin Feb. 11.
Indiana trial rules typically call for defendants to be tried within six months of being charged with a crime, but the February date was scheduled to provide time for attorneys to prepare for what is expected to be a complicated case.
Anticipating a larger-than-normal amount of paperwork and evidence gathered over three decades, public defender Anthony Churchward filed a request to push back deadlines for some documents that will be filed. He said after the hearing that he will soon begin reviewing documents related to the case.
A family member told The Journal Gazette in July that Miller was “always slow,” and Churchward said Friday he will consider asking experts to evaluate his client's competency to stand trial.
“I really can't address that yet,” he said. “That's one of the first things we want to address. We anticipate that determination will be made sooner rather than later.”
April disappeared from her neighborhood on the city's south side on April 1, 1988, and her body was found in a DeKalb County ditch three days later. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
The case drew headlines from national news outlets and flummoxed investigators, who collected DNA and other evidence from the crime scene and interviewed witnesses and potential suspects over 30 years. Police also examined messages and DNA samples left by someone claiming to be the killer in Fort Wayne and Grabill in 1990 and 2004.
Miller was arrested at his mobile home in Grabill on July 15, after investigators used a genealogy database and the DNA evidence to tie him to the crime. He confessed to forcing himself on the girl, killing her and dumping her body in the ditch the next day, a probable cause affidavit alleges.
In court Friday, Miller wore an orange-and-white striped Allen County Jail jumpsuit and sat with attorneys Churchward and Mark Thoma. Handcuffed and shackled, he did not speak at the hearing.
April's mother, Janet Tinsley, sat a few yards away with members of her family and Fort Wayne Deputy Police Chief Garry Hamilton. Tinsley left the courtroom without speaking to reporters.
She has said she will push for Miller to be executed, but prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty.
Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said she could not comment on the case.
Judge John Surbeck scheduled an Oct. 5 pretrial conference but said he anticipates several more to be held before the trial.