Monday, January 15, 2024

The Murder of Michaela MacVilla

source: Facebook

Michaela MacVilla was tragically murdered at the age of 21 on September 25th, 2018. The young woman seemingly vanished after leaving her job at a Stewart's Shop on West Main Street in St. Johnsville, New York shortly after midnight. Michaela unfortunately never returned home and was never seen alive by her loved ones again.

Two days later, on September 27th, Michaela's cell phone was found on Mill Road - and it appeared as if the phone had been thrown from a vehicle. Data from the cell phone led authorities to a 45-year-old local, Daniel Nellis. Michaela's final phone call was made to Nellis' phone number shortly after she left her job at Stewart's. 

Police initially spoke to Nellis on September 28th. During said interview, the officers noticed that Nellis had scratches on his forearms. Nellis told police that he picked Michaela up on the morning of her disappearance. He admitted to bringing Michaela to his home in Oppenheim that morning. Nellis explained that when he was driving her back home later that day, they got into an argument and Michaela asked to be let out of the car. He claims that he never saw her again after that. 

On October 2nd, 2018, Michaela's body was found under some brush on an access road near Kringsbush Road in Oppenheim. She had been shot to death. Her pants had also been pulled down, which indicated a potential sexual assault.

A few days after Michaela's body was found, Nellis was arrested on unrelated weapons charges. While already behind bars on those charges, Nellis was charged with the murder of Michaela MacVilla just a few weeks later. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Related image
Daniel Nellis. (source: The Times Telegram)

During the trial, the prosecution presented evidence from both Michaela's Fitbit - which was found near her body - and from local surveillance footage. Cameras near Nellis's home in Oppenheim captured Michaela and Nellis entering his house around 12:45 AM on the morning of September 25th. Approximately 12 hours later, they are captured leaving the house together. 

Data from Michaela's FitBit showed that Michaela's heart rate spiked at 12:24 PM before stopping altogether just six minutes later. Just minutes later, surveillance cameras captured Nellis's car driving down the access road where Michaela's body was later found. 

Despite all of this evidence, Nellis continued to maintain his innocence and even testified in his defense at trial. However, the jury did not buy his story and ultimately convicted him for the murder of Michaela MacVilla. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison. 

However, in 2023, Daniel Nellis's conviction was overturned. It was reported that on June 8th, 2023, "a four-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling overturning [the murder] conviction, finding that it was the result of 'prosecutorial misconduct' that went unchecked by the trial judge."

Such instances of alleged prosecutorial misconduct included the State eliciting testimony from three separate witnesses that had not been included in the pretrial motions. The testimony was regarding a prior shooting in which Nellis had allegedly been involved. The judge panel also found that certain questions asked by the prosecution during Nellis' trial were "'plainly improper,' as they didn’t relate to Nellis’ credibility but instead to his criminal propensity in such a way that it was prejudicial against his defense." 

Additionally, the judge panel noted that the trial judge did not intervene upon these instances of misconduct. The panel admonished said judge, stating that "County Court certainly must have been aware that some of the evidence introduced by the prosecutor, both on the People’s direct case and upon cross-examination of defendant, fell outside the scope of the court’s pretrial evidentiary rulings." Due to these circumstances, the judge panel ruled on overturning Nellis' murder conviction. A new trial has been ordered. At this time, it is unclear when the new trial will take place. 

Michaela's loved ones are inevitably devastated by this news. In a June 2023 interview with CBS 6, Michaela's grandmother told reporters that she is "livid, angry, to the point of beyond reason that this man gets a second chance at life and my granddaughter is dead."

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