Montgomery County

Attorney: Weapons defendant submits DNA in Michaela MacVilla investigation

As far as he's concerned, his client will be shown to have nothing to do with MacVilla's disappearance and death, attorney says.
Michaela MacVilla (inset), St. Johnsville (background)
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Michaela MacVilla (inset), St. Johnsville (background)

ST. JOHNSVILLE – The man arrested in the midst of the Michaela MacVilla search on unrelated weapons charges has voluntarily submitted a DNA sample to investigators looking into her death, the man’s attorney said.

The attorney made the comments as MacVilla’s family members continued Sunday to wait for answers in her disappearance and death as they continue to receive support from the St. Johnsville community and beyond.

MacVilla, 21, of St. Johnsville, was found dead Oct. 2 in heavy brush on a property in Oppenheim, state police have said. The property’s owner discovered her body.

She was last seen alive leaving the Stewart’s Shop on West Main Street in St. Johnsville, at about 12:10 a.m. on Sept. 25. 

Investigators have not said what they believe caused her death and a spokeswoman last week offered no updates.

During the search, however, investigators arrested 45-year-old Daniel A. Nellis, Sr., on felony weapons counts. While State police have said the charges are unrelated to the MacVilla investigation, the investigation into her disappearance resulted in the Nellis charges. Troopers arrested him Sept. 30, two days before her body was found.

Brian Toal, Nellis’ attorney, said late last week, as far as he’s concerned, his client will be shown to have nothing to do with MacVilla’s disappearance and death.

He said he believes the connection referenced by state police to the MacVilla investigation relates to his client’s name being offered by someone as the search continued.

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Daniel Nellis (Photo: STATE POLICE/Shutterstock)

Investigators have since requested the DNA sample from Nellis, which Nellis voluntarily provided, Toal said. 

MacVilla family members, meanwhile, remain frustrated and anxious to have justice served. They’re also grateful for the efforts of investigators, MacVilla’s aunt Cora Murray said Sunday.

Murray recalled her niece as a free spirit who loved her family.

“It was rare that my children didn’t see her, if not daily, every other day,” Murray recalled Sunday after composing herself when asked of her niece.

“Her passing has left a large hole,” Murray said. “It’s been incredibly difficult, but every day the sun seems to shine a little brighter.”

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Family members have taken solace in the support they’ve received from the community, Murray said. The community followed MacVilla’s mother’s lead and put out candles to light MacVilla’s way home as the search continued. Her mother has since asked residents to shine blue lights until justice is served in her death.

There have also been fundraisers, both online and in the community. A GoFundMe page, the Michaela MacVilla fund, has raised more than $7,500. There’s also a spaghetti dinner benefit for the family scheduled for 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12, at the H.C. Smith Benefit Club, 538 Crum Creek Road, St. Johnsville.

Meanwhile, Nellis remains held and is due back in court later this month.

In all, Nellis faces one count each of first-degree criminal possession of a weapon and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, felonies, according to documents filed in court.

He is accused of possessing more than 10 handguns at a residence on Dolge Avenue in Oppenheim, resulting in the first-degree weapons possession count, according to state police allegations filed in court. Those allegations are dated Oct. 4, after his initial arrest.

He faces the second-degree weapons possession count related to five revolvers found in his possession at the same address, according to the allegations dated Oct. 2.

If convicted of the first-degree weapons possession count, Nellis could face up to 25 years in state prison.

Nellis also faces three misdemeanor weapons possession counts related to an unmarked rifle with scope, a .22-caliber rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun, all recovered from a County Route 108 residence Sept. 30, according to the police allegations.

He also faces a violation marijuana charge related to that date and address.

The misdemeanor weapons counts resulted in charges due to a prior Nellis felony conviction from August 2000, according to the allegations filed in court.

Newspaper records indicate his sentence then was notable in that days before he was to surrender on the crack cocaine sale case, the then-27-year-old barricaded himself in a home with three family members for seven hours before surrendering. He received 1 to 3 years in prison.

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