St. Johnsville murder trial starts


JOHNSTOWN — Video surveillance, DNA cell phone records and several testimonies from witnesses will play a crucial role in the murder trial against Daniel Nellis, which officially began Wednesday afternoon.

Nellis stands trial for allegedly shooting Michaela MacVilla in the head with a .38 caliber firearm. Several of MacVilla’s family and a few of Nellis’s family and friends were at the trial. There to support MacVilla’s family was Nellis’s son, Jacob Nellis.

“Nobody’s family should have to go through that and whether it’s my father or someone else’s, they still need answers,” Jacob Nellis said. “If he did do it, then he deserves to sit in jail.”

The trial began with opening statements from the prosecutor District Attorney Chad Brown and Defense Attorney Brian Toal, and three witnesses were called to the stand including MacVilla’s mom Samantha Jump, who in her testimony said MacVilla’s boyfriend, Devin Sergeant, threatened her saying “She wouldn’t leave the relationship alive,” when attempting to end the relationship. Also testifying was her stepfather, Kevin Jump, who testified on the surveillance camera’s showing MacVilla getting into a silver car; and Jennifer Searles, who was the manager in training working with MacVilla at the Stewart’s Shop, who testified that Nellis was seen in the shop a few days a week.

MacVilla was reported missing on Sept. 25, when she didn’t return home at 31 E. Main St., St Johnsville which is just a five-minute walk from the Stewart’s Shop where MacVilla was last seen leaving work. Her body was found in heavy brush on Kringsbush Road on Oct. 2. Nellis was first arrested on Sept. 30, on weapons charges unrelated to MacVilla’s disappearance and was later indicted on second-degree murder in November.

In his opening statement, Brown said MacVilla went into work at the St. Johnsville Stewart’s on Sept. 24 for the closing shift with Searles.

Samantha Jump reported her 21-year-old daughter missing on Sept. 25, when she didn’t return home from work and could not be reached on her cell phone.

“One week was how long Samantha and her family waited for answers and in one second they received the answer they never wanted,” Brown said.

Brown said MacVilla walked home, which would have only taken her a few minutes, however she was seen on surveillance outside her residence talking to someone in a silver car and got in the car and it drove away.

Once reported missing, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Dispatch Office tried to get a “ping” to locate MacVilla’s cell phone. Her cell phone was located on Mill Road on Sept. 27, by state trooper Kevin Grogan, Brown said.

Cell phone records show the last number called from MacVilla’s cell was to Nellis’s sister, Kelly Sollak. Records also show that MacVilla had called Nellis the night she disappeared. Those records show that Nellis also called 911 three times the morning of Sept. 25. Records show that MacVilla’s phone and Nellis’s phone were in the same vicinity until Mill Road where her phone was discovered and Nellis’s phone continued to 758 Route 108.

Brown said in his opening statement that surveillance shows MacVilla on Sept. 25 at approximately 12:43 a.m. and Nellis in the silver car pull into the driveway of that residence. Another video shows MacVilla and Nellis leaving around 11:57 a.m. Nellis later returns to the residence, but is alone.

MacVilla was then found dead on Oct. 2 on Kringsbush Road on a small farm owned by Larry Thompson. Surveillance from Barbara Susi’s house, which is up the road show a silver car at approximately 12:22 a.m. drive past the spot where her body was found, Brown said.

Police searched multiple locations that Nellis had access to including 53 Dolge Ave., Dolgeville, the residence of the late Robert Bowe. There 33 handguns and 102 long guns were found inside the upstairs apartment.

“You will hear from the forensic scientists and they will tell you about many of the items where they found the defendant’s DNA or Michaela’s DNA,” Brown said. “You will hear how the defendant’s DNA was all over Michaela’s underwear, pants, her sweatshirt as well as on the swabs Dr. Sikirica took as part of the sexual evidence collection kit.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, when all the evidence had been presented, I will talk to you once more and give my summation,” Brown continued. “At that time, I will be asking you to return a verdict that is consistent with a full and fair review of evidence.”

Defense attorney Toal then gave his opening statement.

“If everything Mr. Brown told you were true, I’d be wasting my time here,” Toal said. “When you only know half a story, you don’t know what happened.”

Toal in his opening statement said there are two tragedies, one being the death of MacVilla and the second being a man who is accused of murder “who did not do it.”

Toal said to the jury to pay attention to the timeline and the evidence because it will not line up.

Toal said Nellis was arrested on Sept. 30 for possessing guns that he had nothing to do with, guns that belonged to the 85-year-old Bowe. He said there is no evidence to connect Nellis to those guns. He told the jury that there are two cases, a gun case and a murder case and not to mix the two.

He said only Bowe had access to the guns found.

“As far as murder, Nellis did not do that,” Toal said.

“Pay attention to the evidence, pay attention to the details of the case,” Toal continued.

He said none of it will make any sense.

“You’ll find many reasonable doubts,” Toal said.

By Patricia Older

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