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Admitted April Tinsley killer pleads guilty in court

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) – John Dale Miller of Grabill, accused of brutally raping and killing young April Tinsley in 1988– one of Fort Wayne’s most known cold cases — pleaded guilty in court Friday.

John D. Miller, 59, was arrested on Sunday, July 15, in connection to the kidnapping, rape and murder of 8-year-old April Tinsley in 1988.

Miller is accused of kidnapping April Tinsley and taking her to his mobile home in Grabill, where he said he sexually assaulted, then suffocated her before dumping her body in a DeKalb County ditch.

Over the years, April’s killer appeared to taunt authorities, scrawling on a barn in 1990 that he killed her, and would kill again.

In 2004, police believe he put threatening notes on girls’ bicycles along with other clues that contained his DNA.

DNA evidence linked to an open genealogy database narrowed the suspect search to John D. Miller of Grabill.

He was initially in court for a change of venue hearing.

In court on Friday, his defense team submitted his guilty plea to murder and child molesting.

He read a prepared statement in court and spoke in a strong voice as he read from his papers.

April Tinsley’s mother, Janet Tinsley, was sitting in the courtroom and broke

down in tears when Miller described what he had done to her daughter.

Fort Wayne’s NBC reached out to April’s father, Michael Tinsley, who is unhappy with the development in the case.

He declined to go on camera with Fort Wayne’s NBC, but said through a Facebook message: “There was no justice for April. The bleeding hearts don’t want to punish criminals anymore.”

If the judge accepts the plea, he could spend 80 years behind bars.

RELATED: Sharing her heart: Janet Tinsley talks about dizzying changes in daughter’s murder case

He will be sentenced on Dec. 31 at 1:30 p.m.

See a full timeline of the case here: 

DNA evidence linked to an open genealogy database narrowed the suspect search to 59-year-old John D. Miller of Grabill.

“The abduction and death of 8-year old April Tinsley, that finally culminated in an arrest on Sunday, has haunted this community for over 30 years,” said Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards.

Sergeant Dan Camp, a retired Fort Wayne detective, worked the April Tinsley case tirelessly for years, keeping her picture in his wallet until the day he retired.

Camp told Fort Wayne’s NBC he knew a suspect would eventually be caught even though it didn’t happen on his watch.

“They gave us the profile of the person that probably killed April. Matches him to a T. 29, white, single? Yeah, the whole nine yards. They hit it right on the head to what John Miller looks like and his characteristics today,” Camp says.

MORE: TINSLEY SUSPECT CO-WORKER: Miller was problematic, reclusive

Eight-year old April Tinsley was abducted from her Fort Wayne neighborhood in 1988, and that year means a lot to the case itself.

Under current Indiana law, a prosecutor in a murder case that meets certain criteria might seek the death penalty, in hopes of getting a plea bargain down to life without the possibility of parole.

But Miller’s case originated in 1988, where a whole different set of rules apply.

In 1988, the life without parole statute in the Hoosier state didn’t exist.

That means Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards can’t utilize it here.

In a crime from 1988, someone sentenced to 60 years, let’s say, would do half, or 50 percent, of the sentence because of what’s called “good time credit”.

“That has changed since 1988, so that an individual today serves at least 75 percent, if not 85 percent of the time they receive for a murder conviction. Those are things a prosecutor certainly has to consider, and those are things the defense has to consider as well,” said Robert Gevers, a former prosecutor in Allen County.

Kayla Crandall

Kayla Crandall is an Emmy award-winning journalist. She serves as the Social Media and Digital Content Manager at WPTA. Follow her on Twitter @KaylerJayne.

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