Michaela MacVilla’s family hug one another outside of the Fulton County courthouse shortly after the verdict was read which found Daniel Nellis guilty on all charges for the murder. (The Leader-Herald/Briana O’Hara)

JOHNSTOWN — After two weeks of hearing witnesses testify, seeing items of evidence, and approximately eight hours of deliberating, the Fulton County Court jury reached a verdict Thursday finding Daniel Nellis guilty of killing Michaela MacVilla.

The jury found Nellis guilty on all charges including second-degree murder, first-degree criminal possession of a weapon and two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

MacVilla’s family was in the courtroom as each count of the verdict was read, their emotions were clearly visible.

“I am overwhelmed,” said Samantha Jump, MacVilla’s mom. “I put my faith in the legal system and in the law when this first started. They know what they’re doing. They did their job.”

MacVilla’s sister, Tabitha Jump, said she felt “relieved” about the verdict.

Her grandmother, Jeanne Carey, thanked Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown giving him a hug after the verdict, saying his team was “phenomenal.”

“They put the animal down,” Carey said.

Nellis, 45, of Oppenheim is scheduled for sentencing on Aug. 22 at 10 a.m. before Judge Polly Hoye. Nellis, who was seen taking notes all throughout the two weeks of the trial and who became emotional during his testimony, kept a blank face as the verdict was read. Brown said between the murder conviction and weapons charges Nellis is facing nearly 50 years for his crimes. Brown said the second-degree murder charge alone will get him 25 years to life.

“Michaela will receive her justice when he gets his sentence,” Jump said. “She can never come back. He should never see the light of day.”

“He will never do this to anyone again,” said Kevin Jump.

Nellis was convicted for the murder of MacVilla, which began as a missing person case on Sept. 25 when MacVilla did not return home from her closing shift at the St. Johnsville Stewart’s Shop. The investigation into MacVilla’s disappearance turned into a homicide investigation when her body was found in heavy brush off of Kringsbush Road in Oppenheim.

MacVilla had been shot at close range in the back of the head by a .38 caliber handgun. While Nellis had several handguns and rifles, the gun used to kill MacVilla has not been found.

Nellis was arrested on Sept. 30, two days before MacVilla’s body was found. Police said at the time Nellis was arrested on weapons charges and it was unrelated to her disappearance.

It wasn’t until November, after the case was presented to a grand jury, that Nellis was charged with her death.

Even with all the evidence pointing at him, Nellis continued to claim he was innocent, testifying that even though MacVilla was with him all night on Sept. 25, that he didn’t kill her and that he “would never hurt her.”

Several pieces of evidence including DNA, cell phone records and surveillance videos all led investigators to Nellis. That evidence was presented to the jury over the course of the two week trial leading them to their guilty verdict.

“It was a long trial, we had a lot of witnesses and this was a testament to the investigation that the police did,” Brown said. “The state police put together an exceptional investigation in this case. They went through and they found every piece of evidence.”

Brown said there were 339 leads that police followed up on.

Brown also thanked the state police, and other agencies including the St. Johnsville Police Department and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office for assisting in the case.

“At this point I can’t say enough to the work that the police did on this case and the investigations side, the forensics lab, the people who were able to test and read back,” Brown said. “Katie Moore, who put together the RTT data with help of the FBI, that information made this case what it was. Then you take that and put it into the Fitbit data, it’s really eerie to look at that and know that you’re looking at a girl dying. It’s a little emotional. It’s a lot on your shoulders.”

As for the motive Brown said, “I can’t say that there was ever a motive that came out that was good. I know that he did what he did.”

By Patricia Older

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