COLD CASE BREAKTHROUGH: John D. Miller sentenced to 80 years in April Tinsley case

John D. Miller mugshot (left), computer-generated images of suspect from police (right)
John D. Miller mugshot (left), computer-generated images of suspect from police (right)(WPTA)
Updated: Dec. 21, 2018 at 1:13 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - John D. Miller, the man who admitted to abducting, raping, and killing 8-year-old April Tinsley, learned his sentence Friday.

During court Friday, Miller was sentenced to 80 years after Judge Surbeck accepted John Miller’s plea deal calling for him to serve 50 years for the murder of eight-year-old April Tinsley and 30 years for child molestation.

The courtroom was standing room only with almost every chair filled and several people standing in the back half of the room.

Miller was wheeled into the courtroom in a wheelchair and spoke only once: when he stated his name in a strong but shaky voice.

After the hearing began several members of April’s family read statements to Miller and the court.

The first came from April’s cousin Christina Snyder who was emotional when she spoke, telling Miller she uses the word human loosely when describing him. She also called Miller an animal and looked at him and said he was a cold-hearted monster.

She ended her statement by looking at Miller directly telling him to “burn in hell, you monster.”

April’s mom Janet also spoke in court saying even though it’s been 30 years she still remembers the day like it was yesterday, telling Miller he ripped her family apart. She also looked at Miller and said, “You took her life, we want yours,” saying the 80 years he’s getting is far less than what he has made the family deal with.

She also told Miller that he threw April’s body out like it was trash and that she will never forgive him or forgive what he took from her until the day she dies.

Prosecutor Karen Richards closed the statements. She was emotional while she spoke to the court, even crying at times. She said what Miller did made everyone in Fort Wayne lose their sense of safety. She applauded law enforcement and said she agrees with the Tinsley family that she would have liked to see the death penalty.

Miller’s defense attorney also read his statement saying that Miller is sorry to the Tinsley family and the community, and that he can’t do anything to make up for what is lost and that he wishes it never happened.

Case Background

On April 1, 1988, 8-year-old April Tinsley walked to a friend’s house from her Fort Wayne house. She never made it home. A desperate search would end three days later, sending the Tinsleys’ world to a screeching halt.

“There was a lot of times where I had people say to me you should’ve kept her home, you should’ve kept her home. You can’t prison your own child, you gotta let them outside and play,” April’s mother Janet Tinsley said.

A jogger in DeKalb County came upon April’s body in a ditch. The girl had been raped and suffocated, a sex toy located not far from the body. The case has haunted the police force through the years.

In 2009, ABC21 spoke with a retired Fort Wayne police officer who worked on the case. Dan Camp told us he had no idea the pressure he would feel to try to solve the case when it was dropped in his lap back in 1988. The case became an obsession for Camp; he spent years tracking hundreds of leads, interviewing and re-interviewing witnesses.

“You have to go over it and over it and over it, because being unsolved, there was something that I was missing, and I wasn’t seeing it, and that’s how I felt about it,” he told us in 2009.

The unsuccessful search for Tinsley’s killer finally drove him out of the detective bureau.

The killer taunted police through the years. In 2004, the killer left a series of notes at the homes of young girls mentioning the murder. The notes included used condoms and photos of the killer from the waist down. The condoms had DNA that matched DNA found at the crime scene.

In October of that year, a convicted sex offender was questioned extensively about the case, but was released after his DNA didn’t match what was found at the scene.

In 2015, a sophisticated computer program used by a Virginia laboratory has produced a new composite sketch of what April Tinsley’s killer might look like. It involves a new slant on analyzing DNA evidence in the case. The photo does not amount to a mug shot that pinpoints the identity of the killer, but it could have some real value.

The photo was updated the following year to show what the killer might have looked like in 2016.

The profile led police to believe the killer was a white male currently between the ages of 49 and 59.

In 2009 a profile indicated he works, lives or spends time in the northeast section of Fort Wayne. The profile also indicated he spends time where groups of children, especially little girls, are likely to be. He may collect toys that are of interest to young girls.

In 2018, a new law went into effect that was designed to solve crimes such as the April Tinsley case. As of January 1st, those arrested for a felony crime in the Hoosier state had to begin submitting a DNA sample via a cheek swab.

The DNA profiles are being gathered for inclusion in the state’s Combined DNA Index System or CODIS, following passage of Senate Enrolled Act 322. The samples are compared to other profiles in the database, hoping to boost the chances of getting a match on unsolved crimes like the 30-year old sexual assault and murder of 8-year old April Tinsley of Fort Wayne.

This DNA ended up leading police to a suspect in the case. On July 15, 2018, police made an arrest in the case. The suspect, John Miller, was arrested at his Grabill, Ind. home. Grabill is located northeast of Fort Wayne.

The arrest comes as the genetic genealogy unit at Parabon NanoLabs combined DNA evidence samples from the case with a public genealogy database.

“What we are doing is looking for people who share a significant amount of DNA with the suspect,” says Moore. “And if we find a second or third cousin or closer, we feel it’s a very promising case,” explains Moore.

The work narrowed the suspect down to two brothers. Police pulled samples of Miller’s DNA from condoms removed from a trash receptacle outside his home. This DNA was compared to the existing DNA evidence.

When police showed up at Miller’s home on Sunday morning, they asked him if he knew why there were there. According to the affidavit, Miller responded, “April Tinsley.”

Neighbors had a difficult time finding the words to describe their emotions after the suspected killer, John D. Miller had been living just down the street, and even right next door, in their quiet Grabill community.

Neighbors say they’re uneasy to know that all this time the man they now suspect of this horrible crime, lived right under their nose. In a place that’s right across from a little league softball field, and a home that kids passed every day to get to the bus stop.

Copyright 2021 WPTA. All rights reserved.