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John D. Miller, suspect in April Tinsley killing, scheduled for February murder trial in Fort Wayne

John D. Miller is brought Friday to an Allen Superior courtroom where his trial was scheduled in the 1988 killing of April Tinsley. (Photo by Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
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)

A man accused of the 1988 killing of April Tinsley has been scheduled for a February trial.

John D. Miller, 59, of the 13700 block of Main Street in Grabill, is scheduled for trial Feb. 11-22 on charges of murder and Class A felony child molesting. He was arrested July 15 in the April 1, 1988, abduction and killing of 8-year-old Tinsley. Her body was found three days after her disappearance 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.

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Janet Tinsley attended the hearing and wore her blue T-shirt with her only daughter’s photo on it and the words “Never Forgotten,” along with about a dozen friends and family members, Fort Wayne Police Deputy Chief Garry Hamilton, and a representative of the police department’s Victims Assistance program.

Miller sat with his handcuffed hands above the table across the courtroom from where Janet Tinsley and her supporters were seated, a slight tremor going through him. He looked around, but mostly glanced at the empty jury box across from him.

Miller’s public defender, Anthony Churchward, talked with him, with Churchward blocking him from the Tinsley supporters’ views. During Miller’s first hearing, held July 19, he asked for a public defender.

If convicted, Miller would be sentenced according to penalties in effect in 1988, when the crimes occurred. At that time, murder carried a sentence of 30-60 years and Class A felony child molesting carried a sentence of 20-40 years. Indiana has since gone away from a class system for felonies and instituted a level system.

Churchward said after the hearing that he had met with Miller and has “tons of paperwork” associated with the case. Churchward said he hadn’t assessed Miller’s fitness for trial, but if the defense team had any inkling that he couldn’t help in his defense the court would require a competency evaluation.

“That determination will be one of the first things we’ll address,” Churchward said. “It will be made sooner rather than later.”

In the hearing before Judge John F. Surbeck Jr., Churchward said that Miller had waived his right to be tried within 6 months and that a “vast amount of discovery” was expected before the case went to trial.

Surbeck said he expected to set several pretrial hearings, with the next scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Oct. 5.

Although Surbeck is scheduled to retire Dec. 31, he will remain on Miller’s case through its completion, he said after Friday’s hearing. Allen Superior Judge Fran Gull has a conflict with the case because she served as the prosecutor while the Tinsley case was being investigated, he said.

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