Fulton County

DA: Phone records early key in Michaela MacVilla disappearance, murder investigation

Michaela MacVilla (inset), St. Johnsville (background)
Michaela MacVilla (inset), St. Johnsville (background)

JOHNSTOWN — Michaela MacVilla’s cellphone records and those of her alleged killer proved crucial in the early investigation into her disappearance and murder, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office stated in court filings.

The final call from MacVilla’s phone made minutes after she was last seen alive was to a cellphone owned by Daniel A. Nellis Sr., the man now accused of shooting her to death and leaving her body in a Fulton County field, according to a prosecution court filing obtained by The Daily Gazette.

Location data associated with the two phones also showed them “in the same vicinity at that time” until MacVilla’s phone stopped moving at a location on Mill Road in the town of Oppenheim, prosecutors wrote.

Investigators located MacVilla’s cellphone abandoned on the side of Mill Road on Sept. 27 — two days after she disappeared, according to the prosecution filing.

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 on Kringsbush Road in Oppenheim, state police said. The property’s owner discovered her body.

Nellis, 45, was indicted in November on one count of second-degree murder, accused of shooting MacVilla, 21, in the head with a handgun.

Nellis’ attorney, Brian Toal, could not be reached for comment Sunday. 

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

Toal filed a motion in January stating that evidence presented to the Fulton County grand jury in the case could be “largely characterized as circumstantial as well as hearsay.”  Prosecutors rebutted that argument with their recent filing revealing the cellphone records.

Toal challenged, among other items, search warrants issued in the case. He argued searches of Nellis’ residence at 758 County Highway 108 and the residence of another man in Dolgeville — a residence he had access to — were illegal. But Fulton County  Court Judge Polly Hoye later ruled the searches were legal. 

The judge’s ruling means any evidence obtained during the searches can be used at Nellis’ trial, which is set for June. The filings, however, did not identify what exactly investigators uncovered during the searches. The filings also did not provide further context to the cellphone records, only the time and destination of the final call and the location data.

But District Attorney Chad Brown’s response to Toal’s motion did include how investigators got to the point of searching.

After MacVilla’s cellphone was found Sept. 27 alongside Mill Road, investigators learned the last number called from the phone was at 12:15 a.m. on Sept. 25 to a number connected to Nellis, Brown wrote.

Investigators made their first contact with Nellis the next day, Sept. 28. They spoke with him at the County Highway 108 address about disappearance of MacVilla, Brown wrote. At some point during that interaction, Nellis confirmed his phone number, the same number that appeared on MacVilla’s cellphone records, Brown wrote.

Investigators also looked at the location data.

“A check of cell sites for both the defendant’s cellphone and Michaela MacVilla’s cellphone around the time of the last dial revealed that both phones were in the same vicinity at that time and continued on the same path of travel until the area of Mill Road where Michaela MacVilla’s cellphone stopped moving and the defendant’s cellphone continued to the area of 758 County Highway 108,” Brown wrote.


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Categories: -News-, Fulton Montgomery Schoharie

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