Trial focuses on body, witnesses
JOHNSTOWN — The man who discovered the body of Michaela MacVilla took the stand on Monday in Fulton County Court in front of Judge Polly Hoye as the trial against Daniel Nellis for the alleged murder of the St. Johnsville woman continued.
MacVilla, who was reported missing on Sept. 25, was found dead on Oct. 2 in heavy brush on Kringsbush Road near an access road that has powerlines running parallel to the road. Her body was found by Larry Thompson, who lives on Kringsbush Road.
Thompson testified that he was driving home from the Walmart Supercenter in Herkimer on Oct. 2, when he decided to drive down the access road to search for MacVilla. He said he overheard a conversation a few days prior suggesting farmers check their properties for the missing woman. Thompson stated that he drove down to a turn-around spot on the road when he noticed “brush there, bent down in the opposite direction.”
Thomson said as a hunter, he could tell there was something there.
“I stopped my car, got out and saw the deceased woman’s body,” Thompson testified. “I observed a mostly nude body.”
Thompson said she was nude from her mid-back down to her ankles.
Thompson testified that he immediately called 911 as soon as he discovered her body.
That recording from the 911 call was played during the testimony of Fulton County sheriff’s deputy Corey Unlinger. In the recording, Thompson was heard to sound shaken up and crying as he frantically told police that he found a deceased female.
“I found a decease female. It’s near where the powerline is off Kringsbush Road,” Thompson said in the recording.
“She’s partly naked,” Thompson said in the recording. “It looks like they tore her pants off and everything.”
During Thompson’s testimony, he claimed that he had also called his “wife” Sharron Graves, who lives with him at his residence on Kringsbush Road.
However, during cross examination, Defense Attorney Brian Toal attempted to discredit Thompson’s testimony by getting Thompson to admit he and Graves are not legally married and that he had been arrested for a domestic violence incident.
During the cross examination, Thompson testified that he was arrested on June 29, 2018, for third-degree assault and forcible touching, and was issued a stay-away order from Graves, who had an apartment on Main Street in St. Johnsville.
He also tried to show the jury that someone else other than Nellis could be responsible for MacVilla’s death by getting Thompson to admit that he was never asked by police to submit a sample of DNA.
Days following the discovery of MacVilla’s body, investigators went door-to-door to residents living on Kringsbush Road when they obtained surveillance video from Barbara Susi, who testified that she rides her four wheeler down the access road often.
State Trooper Jason Kemmet, who testified that he took days to view the footage from the surveillance video said he was looking for a gray sedan. Nellis had allegedly driven a gray vehicle, which Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown said in his opening statement on Wednesday, there is surveillance video that shows MacVilla getting into what appeared to be a silver car.
Kemmet testified that at approximately 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 25 he saw a gray sedan traveling down Kringsbush Road. He said there was a 12-minute time lapse and he then saw that vehicle drive back down Kringsbush Road going in the other direction.
During the cross examination, Kemmet testified that he also saw a gray sedan at approximately 11:30 p.m. and a gray crossover and gray Pontiac around midnight, however, he could not distinguish the make of two of those vehicles. Kemmet also testified that he did not know whether it was the same vehicle he saw each time, or if it was a different vehicle each of the three times.
In previous testimony, the prosecution focused on the location of MacVilla’s cell phone, as well as Nellis’ and that Nellis had made several attempts to call 911 the day of her disappearance.
In addition, MacVilla’s parents initially thought her boyfriend, Devin Sargeant, may have been involved since he allegedly had threatened to kill himself or her if she broke up with him.
Sargeant has an alibi for the morning of MacVilla’s disappearance and denied he ever threatened her.
Toal said in his opening statements he hopes to plant enough doubt in the jury’s mind to prove Nellis did not murder MacVilla, as well as show the prosecution’s timeline does not add up.