Jurors from outside Allen County likely will hear the case of a Grabill man charged in the 1988 sexual assault and murder of an 8-year-old Fort Wayne girl.
John D. Miller, 59, is charged with murder and child molesting in the death of April Tinsley, and his lawyers have argued in court documents that he can't receive a fair trial in Allen County. A request filed Oct. 4 to move the trial cites “public hostility against him,” “public outrage” over the alleged crime and “speculative opinions as to his guilt and character.”
Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck will consider the request in a hearing Dec. 7 but said Monday he would “probably” order jurors to be selected from another county to be transported here for the trial. Miller's trial is scheduled to start Feb. 11.
Judges can move trials or allow jurors to be selected from other counties in certain situations, such as when there is significant pretrial publicity. State law allows for changes of venue in cases of bias or prejudice against the defendant.
The killing became notorious over three decades and received attention from local and national media outlets including the now-defunct “America's Most Wanted.” Miller's arrest in July also generated national and local headlines.
The nearly nonstop coverage of the case would have made its way to many potential jurors in Allen County and fomented “negative feelings” among them, Surbeck said.
“There is no way you could try that case here,” he said. “In this community, the citizens have been reminded on a regular basis what he is alleged to have done.”
April disappeared from her neighborhood on the city's south side on April 1, 1988, and her body was found along a county road in southern DeKalb County three days later. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled, and police collected DNA from the scene.
Investigators also found DNA at sites in 1990 and 2004 in Fort Wayne and Grabill, where someone claiming to be April's killer had left notes. Detectives didn't have anything to compare the samples to until this year, when police arranged for genetic testing through a Virginia company that analyzes DNA using a public genealogy database.
That led police to Miller, who was arrested July 15 at his Grabill home on Main Street. He confessed to kidnapping April, assaulting and killing her there and dumping her body in a ditch, a probable cause affidavit alleges.
Miller is being held without bond at the Allen County Jail.
His lawyers will present copies of news articles at the December court hearing, according to the motion for change of venue.
“Additionally, Mr. Miller is aware that there have been several comments posted on various social media pages of some of the news outlets,” court documents state. “These comments include discussions about Mr. Miller's guilt and the appropriate punishment to be levied upon him.”
He faces up to 100 years in prison if he is convicted on both charges. April's mother, Janet Tinsley, has said she will push for the death penalty, but prosecutors have not indicated whether they will seek it.
If the change-of-venue request is granted, it would mark the second time this year an Allen County judge has approved selecting a jury from another county in a well-known murder case.
Judge Fran Gull ruled Oct. 1 that jurors can be selected in Marion County and transported to Allen County for the death penalty trial next year for Marcus Dansby. A request to move his trial also cited news coverage and comments on social media.
Dansby is charged with killing four people in 2016.