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First court hearing held on formal charges against suspect in April Tinsley murder in Fort Wayne

John D. Miller, 59, of Grabill, had his initial hearing this morning in Allen Superior Court on formal charges of murder and Class A felony child molesting for the alleged abduction and murder of 8-year-old April Marie Tinsley of Fort Wayne. (Courtesy of the Allen County Sheriff's Department)

John D. Miller sat quietly and provided short answers to the judge’s questions during his initial hearing Thursday on formal charges of murder and Class A felony child molesting in connection with the 1988 abduction and death of 8-year-old April Marie Tinsley.

Miller, 59, of the 13700 block of Main Street in Grabill, was dressed in orange-and-white-striped coveralls from the Allen County Jail. His hands were cuffed and shackled to his feet.

Tinsley’s mother, Janet, and about a dozen family members and/or friends also sat quietly through the brief hearing in the first two rows of the Allen Circuit Courtroom gallery seating. A least one member of the family used a tissue to wipe tears from her eyes.

Family members declined to speak with media after the hearing.

As part of the hearing, Allen Superior Court Judge John F. Surbeck Jr. asked Miller if he had an attorney or if he needed the court to appoint him a public defender. In response to Surbeck’s questions, Miller said he was indigent and would like the court to appoint him an attorney.

Chalk messages referencing the April Marie Tinsley murder case pepper the sidewalk outside of the Allen County Courthouse on Thursday morning. (By Justin Kenny of news-sentinel.com)

Surbeck ordered the Allen County Public Defender’s office to provide Miller with legal representation.

Surbeck also entered a preliminary plea of not guilty for Miller. The judge set a court hearing for Aug. 3 to select a trial date for the case. Citing the strong case presented in the probable cause affidavit filed with the charges, Surbeck also ordered Miller held without bond in the Allen County Jail while awaiting trial.

The initial hearing was Miller’s first court hearing on the formal charges the Allen County Prosecutor’s office filed against him Wednesday in connection with the Tinsley case.

If Miller is convicted, Surbeck said he must be sentenced according to penalties in effect in 1988, when the crime allegedly was committed.

At that time, a person convicted of murder could receive a sentence of 30-60 years and a person convicted of Class A felony child molesting could receive a sentence of 20-40 years, Surbeck said.

Chalk messages referencing the April Marie Tinsley murder case pepper the sidewalk in front of the main entrance of the Allen County Courthouse on Thursday morning. (By Justin Kenny of news-sentinel.com)

The prosecution also can request the death penalty for a person who was age 18 at the time of committing a murder.

RELATED STORIES: READ PAST APRIL TINSLEY CASE STORIES FROM OUR ARCHIVES

Detectives from the Fort Wayne Police Department and Indiana State Police arrested Miller on Sunday on preliminary charges of murder, child molesting and confinement in connection with the Tinsley case.

Tinsley was abducted April 1, 1988, from Hoagland Avenue near her home. Her body was found April 4 in a ditch in the 5000 block of DeKalb County Road 68 near Spencerville. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

DNA profiling and research by genetic genealogy expert CeCe Moore allegedly identified two brothers as potential suspects in the case, a probable cause affidavit filed in the case said. Police allegedly obtained DNA from items in Miller’s trash that proved a match with DNA reportedly left by Tinsley’s killer.

After being picked up Sunday for questioning by detectives, Miller allegedly confessed to abducting and sexually assaulting Tinsley and then choking her to death to prevent her from reporting him to police, the probable cause affidavit filed in the case said.

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