Nellis case handed to jurors

JOHNSTOWN — The 12 member jury began their deliberations on Wednesday to determine the innocence or guilt of Daniel Nellis, who has been on trial the past two weeks for the death of Michaela MacVilla.

Prior to the start of deliberations, Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown and defense attorney Brian Toal gave their closing statements, each trying to solidify their cases to the jury.

Giving the first closing statement was Toal, who throughout his statement claimed Nellis to be innocent and claimed that other witnesses in the case have been overlooked by police as possible suspects during the investigation into MacVilla’s disappearance and death.

“This case is about two tragedies and two cases,” Toal said. “The first is the death of Michaela MacVilla and the second tragedy is the arrest and prosecution of Daniel Nellis for crimes he did not commit. People don’t just up and murder someone. Someone has to have a reason to do that.”

Toal said Nellis had no motive to kill MacVilla, however, he said both Devin Sargeant — MacVilla’s boyfriend — and Luke Sargeant, his father, did have a motive — jealousy.

Toal said MacVilla and Nellis began a relationship that was suppose to remain a secret because of her boyfriend, Devin Sargeant, “an angry, threatening boyfriend who she was trying to break up with.”

When Samantha Jump, MacVilla’s mom testified, she said Devin Sargeant threatened MacVilla stating “You’ll never make it out of the relationship alive.”

Toal said when police interviewed Sargeant, he gave police the statement that he threatened to kill himself if MacVilla ended their relationship, but while under oath in the courtroom, he denied that statement. Toal said Sargeant either lied under oath or lied to the police.

Toal said Devin’s father, Luke Sargeant, alibied Devin Sargeant, and testified that he was home between 1 and 7 p.m. on Sept. 25, but during his rebuttal testimony, he said he was working in Amsterdam.

“He forgot the story,” Toal said. “That’s how we catch a liar.”

Toal said MacVilla would have been able to outrun Nellis, who is a 45-year-old disabled man, but would not have been able to outrun Devin or Luke Sargeant.

Toal said Nellis testified that MacVilla was with him all night and when bringing her home, he pulled over on Bell Road to “fool around” when they were caught by Luke Sargeant, who was in a blue truck.

“Dan had no motive to kill Michaela. They did,” Toal said.

Toal said another liar was Larry Thompson, the man who discovered MacVilla’s body. Toal said Thompson lied about being married to his wife, lied about overhearing a conversation for farmers to search their properties and was caught lying about his assault and forcible touching charges, along with the stay-away order his “wife” has against him. Toal said that the lead investigator in the case, Donald Klingbeil, testified that he didn’t even know of Thompson’s assault arrests until the day Thompson took the stand.

“You might want to consider this guy,” Toal said.

Toal said police were using drones searching for MacVilla for days and Thompson found her in five minutes.

Toal said Nellis, however, did not lie.

“Daniel Nellis is innocent on all charges and your verdict should reflect that,” Toal said to the jury.

Brown in his closing statement argued that Nellis didn’t need a motive to kill MacVilla and that all the evidence and timeline of events, all point to Nellis.

“One common name, Daniel Nellis, is in all the details,” Brown said.

Brown said during Katie Moore’s testimony, she mapped out the location of Devin Sargeant’s cell phone, MacVilla’s cell phone and Nellis’s cell phone to determine their locations on Sept. 25. Brown showed a map which showed that Sargeant was never near Kringsbush Road where MacVilla’s body was found, however, Nellis was. The map also shows that Nellis was at 53 Dolge Ave., Dolgeville where all the guns were found.

Brown said that Thompson had no reason to kill MacVilla. Brown told the jury that they heard Thompson’s 911 call after he found the body and that he sounded distraught.

As for Nellis’ story of the couple being caught “fooling around” by Luke Sargeant, Brown said Sargeant never owned a blue truck.

“The devil is in the details,” Brown said. “I mean Daniel Nellis is in the details.”

Brown said the story Nellis gave doesn’t add up. He said in the 911 calls he made early on Sept. 25, it can clearly be heard that Nellis said Hell’s Angels with guns and dogs were surrounding his house, but then in his testimony he said it was ATV’s and dirtbikes.

MacVilla’s distinctive multi-colored purse, which she was seen with when leaving Stewart’s, was never found, however, fabric similar to that purse was found, along with a cell phone charger in a burn barrel outside of Nellis’s residence at 758 Route 108.

Brown said Nellis’s DNA was found on the ankles of MacVilla’s pants and on the outside of her waistband.

“Michaela MacVilla, she didn’t deserve this,” Brown said. “She didn’t deserve this happening to her.”

Brown showed a close up picture of glasses that were found near MacVilla’s body when she was found on Oct. 2, and told the jury to remember how MacVilla’s black-rimmed glasses were found with the left lens popped out.

He showed an autopsy photo of the left side of her face and what he claimed to be a bruise and not her face decomposing. Brown then showed a photo of her body when it was found and told the jury to remember how her body was found.

“When Michaela was found, she was found face down on her right side, not her left side. The defendant struck Michaela in the face so hard knocking off her glasses, causing the lens to pop out,” Brown said. “When Michaela tried to get away from the defendant, he grabbed her ankle and that’s how the DNA got there. He then grabbed her waist and that’s how his DNA got there. And when that wasn’t enough, he grabbed a gun and he shot Michaela.”

Brown said on Sept. 25, 2018, Nellis intended to kill MacVilla by shooting her with a .38 caliber handgun.

“There is only one answer that the evidence will allow and that is to find the defendant guilty of murder in the second degree, criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, criminal possession of a weapon in the first degree.”