JOHNSTOWN — Daniel Nellis was sentenced in Fulton County Court on Thursday to spend 40 years to life in prison following the murder of Michaela MacVilla.
Nellis, 45, of Dolgeville, was convicted by a County Court jury in June of second-degree murder in the death of MacVilla last September, along with a separate charge of first-degree criminal possession of a weapon based on weapons police found while searching his residence.
The 21-year-old St. Johnsville woman was shot in the back of the head in a remote area of the town of Oppenheim on Sept. 25 after having spent the previous night with Nellis, according to trial testimony.
Prior to sentencing, family members delivering victim impact statements called Nellis a “monster” and agreed they would never forgive him. Nearly 50 family members and friends attended the court proceeding.
“I hate you. I loath you. I will never forgive you,” McVilla’s mother, Samantha Jump, wrote in a statement read out loud by Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown. Jump and her husband live in North Carolina and chose not to attend the sentencing, but both submitted statements.
Her grandmother, Rev. Jeanne Carey, read aloud statements on behalf of herself and Michaela’s younger sister, Tabitha. A second older sister, Kim, had died of a cardiac arrhythmia just a few weeks earlier.
“When my oldest sister, Kimberlee, passed, I was upset, but I knew I would survive knowing Michaela would be right there beside me,” Tabitha wrote. “When you killed her, I didn’t know how to handle it without her.”
County Court Judge Polly Hoye sentenced Nellis to 25 years to life in prison for the murder, and a consecutive sentence of another 15 years for first-degree criminal possession of a weapon, based on police having found multiple illegal firearms in his residence.
“The state police put together a solid case and technology filled in a lot of the blanks,” Hoye told Nellis during sentencing.
During the trial prosecutors presented the videos of MacVilla with Nellis at his home the morning she was believed to have been killed, DNA evidence placing Nellis with MacVilla at the time of her death, cellphone evidence showing she had called Nellis after midnight the day she was believed killed, and cellphone location evidence placing him in proximity to her at the time of her death. Data from a Fitbit heart rate monitor MacVilla wore showed her heart rate spiked at 12:24 p.m. on Sept. 25, and then stopped six minutes later.
MacVilla was reported missing after she left a Stewart’s Shop where she worked in St. Johnsville at about 12:10 a.m. on Sept. 25. The case was initially treated as a missing person, but she was found dead Oct. 2 in heavy brush on a property on Kringsbush Road in Oppenheim. The property’s owner discovered her body.
Nellis quickly became a suspect and was arrested on the weapons charge, but it wasn’t until Nov. 15 that a grand jury brought a murder charge against Nellis.
Nellis has an extensive criminal history — 22 arrests, and troubling behavior as far back as elementary school — that couldn’t be brought up during the trial, Brown said in urging Hoye to impose the maximum sentences, which she did.
“Michaela was given no mercy when she was shot in the back of the head, and he should be given none,” Brown said in court.
Nellis maintains his innocence, and spoke in court for several minutes, maintaining his rights had been violated, searches of his residence were illegal, and he did not receive a fair trial. He named several other men who believes may have committed the murder.
“I would not take the life of another human being, let alone a girl I was trying to date,” Nellis said.
An appeal is planned, defense attorney Brian Toal said.
“I never denied he had a criminal history, but most of that is related to drugs and alcohol, and he has no violent history,” Toal said.
Hoye said Nellis had received a fair trial — he testified in his own defense — and indicated she didn’t believe Nellis’ denials. “You got to tell your story to the jury, and they didn’t believe it,” she said. “I hope you feel guilt and shame every day of the rest of your life.”
Outside court, family members said they were satisfied with the sentence, though it won’t bring Michaela back.
“I believe in the justice system, and it’s done a wonderful job here,” said Carey, her grandmother. “I don’t believe he has anything to appeal on. I was at the trial every day.”
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.
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