- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. (AP) - Authorities announced murder charges Wednesday in the slaying of a 14-year-old girl whose death while walking her dog on a popular wooded trail shocked a small Macomb County community last summer.

James VanCallis is charged with first-degree murder, murder during another felony and assault with intent to commit sexual penetration, Prosecutor Eric Smith said at a news conference.

Smith said there is physical, eyewitness and electronic evidence that places VanCallis at the scene of April Millsap’s killing in July. She died of head trauma and asphyxia, the medical examiner’s office found.

Joggers alerted by April’s dog found her body in a ditch along the Macomb Orchard Trail in Armada, 50 miles northeast of Detroit.

“As the investigation progressed and intensified the evidence led in only one direction,” said Smith, who was joined at the announcement by April’s stepfather and mother.

Defense lawyer Dean Ankouny said VanCallis has been wrongly charged.

“He maintains that he did not kill April Millsap. He looks forward to proving his innocence in court,” Ankouny said.

Armada Police Chief Howard Smith went to court Wednesday to have the charges authorized by a judge. He said April sent a text message before she was attacked that said, “I almost got kidnapped.”

The chief said there’s video showing VanCallis with April’s cellphone.

VanCallis, 32, of St. Clair County is expected to appear in a Romeo court Thursday. He is in custody in an unrelated drug case.

Officials said investigators from a number of agencies went through 1,000 tips.

Mary Straubel, who runs the business office of the Armada Agricultural Society/Armada Fair, felt relieved when she heard about the charges.

“I think we as a community can really move on,” she said.

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