Fulton County

Oppenheim man charged in Michaela MacVilla death

He was arraigned Thursday morning and pleaded not guilty
Michaela MacVilla (inset), St. Johnsville (background)
Michaela MacVilla (inset), St. Johnsville (background)

JOHNSTOWN — A man who was arrested on weapons charges as police investigated the disappearance of Michaela MacVilla is now charged with killing her, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office said Thursday.

Daniel A. Nellis Sr., 45, was indicted on one count of second-degree murder. He’s accused of shooting MacVilla, 21, in the head with a handgun in late September.

MacVilla was last seen alive leaving a Stewart’s Shop on West Main Street in St. Johnsville at about 12:10 a.m. on Sept. 25. She was found dead Oct. 2 in heavy brush on a property in Oppenheim. The property’s owner discovered her body.

Also Today: MacVilla family on indictment: ‘Immediate relief’, Nov. 15, 2018

State police Capt. Richard O’Brien said at an afternoon press conference that investigators committed themselves to finding MacVilla and then to charging the person responsible for her death.

“We have now done that with the arrest of Mr. Nellis,” O’Brien said.

CBS6 Facebook Live from afternoon press conference:

The indictment unsealed Thursday places the location of MacVilla’s death as Oppenheim, Fulton County. The indictment, however, only provides a range of dates for the time of her death, between Sept. 25 and Sept. 30 — dates that coincide with MacVilla’s disappearance and Nellis’ later arrest on weapons charges. 

Nellis has been in custody since his Sept. 30 arrest.

The sealed indictment was handed up Thursday morning in Fulton County Court, where Nellis was arraigned. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail.


Daniel A. Nellis, Sr. (Fulton County District Attorney)

During the search for MacVilla, investigators arrested Nellis on felony weapons counts on Sept. 30. State police said at the time that those charges were unrelated to the MacVilla investigation. Troopers arrested Nellis on the weapons charges two days before MacVilla’s body was found.

Nellis’ attorney, Brian Toal, said late last month that Nellis voluntarily submitted a DNA sample to investigators looking into MacVilla’s death. Toal said at the time that he believed the sample would show Nellis had no involvement in her death.

Also Today: MacVilla family on indictment: ‘Immediate relief’, Nov. 15, 2018

Thursday afternoon, Toal reiterated that Nellis had nothing to do with MacVilla’s death. He said he had not received any results from the DNA test or other information from authorities.

“He maintains his innocence, and we’re going to fight it,” Toal said.

MacVilla’s relatives, on Thursday, welcomed news of the indictment, said Cora Murray, MacVilla’s aunt.

Murray said she was informed of the indictment against Nellis in a call from the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office earlier Thursday.

“Immediate relief,” Murray said of her reaction to the news. “Knowing that the St. Johnsville community at large is safe … it’s a huge sigh of relief.”

Murray said relatives knew the grand jury was meeting in the case but had not heard the results until the call.

Beyond the relief at the indictment, Murray expressed gratitude to all the investigators who worked on the case.

“We’re so grateful that law enforcement feels the right person is in custody,” Murray said.

MacVilla has been recalled by family as a free spirit who loved her family; Murray said MacVilla would frequently visit her and her children, she said. 

As for Nellis, Murray did not know him, and she did not know if MacVilla knew him. She could only speculate that they might have crossed paths through MacVilla’s work as a Stewart’s clerk.

“We’re incredibly thankful to everyone who worked so tirelessly,” Murray said.

In addition to the murder count, Nellis faces two counts of third-degree criminal possession of  a weapon, which accuses him of possessing the murder weapon.

He also faces one count of first-degree criminal possession of a weapon, accused of possessing 10 or more pistols or revolvers at 53 Dolge Ave., Dolgeville.

Asked about the guns Nellis allegedly possessed, Toal said they did not belong to Nellis, and they were not found in his home.


If convicted of the murder charge, Nellis would face up to 25 years to life in state prison; if convicted of the first-degree weapons possession count, he would face up to 25 years in state prison.

Nellis was previously charged with three misdemeanor weapons possession counts related to an unmarked rifle with a scope, a .22-caliber rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun, all recovered from a County Route 108 residence on Sept. 30, according to the police allegations filed at the time. He also faced a violation marijuana charge.

The misdemeanor weapons counts were filed because of a prior felony conviction from August 2000, according to court documents.

Daily Gazette reporter Jason Subik contributed to this article.

Daniel Nellis indictment by Steven Cook on Scribd


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