An Allen Superior Court judge entered a plea of not guilty Thursday for a Grabill man charged with molesting and killing 8-year-old April Tinsley in 1988.
With April's mother looking on, John D. Miller, 59, told Judge John Surbeck he understands his rights and the charges against him. He was formally charged Wednesday with murder and child molesting in the girl's death.
Surbeck said during the 10-minute hearing that Miller could be sentenced to up to 100 years in prison if he is convicted of both crimes.
Miller, handcuffed and shackled, wore a jail-issued orange-and-white striped jumpsuit. He sat slumped in a chair a few yards away from Janet Tinsley, April's mother, inside the courtroom.
Tinsley was among dozens who attended the hearing and wore a blue T-shirt with her daughter's picture on the front. “Never forgotten,” it read.
April was kidnapped near her home on West Williams Street on April 1, 1988, and her body was found three days later in DeKalb County. Miller was arrested Sunday at his home after police used DNA and genealogy data to narrow the search for a suspect.
He was being held without bail at the Allen County Jail. His next court date is Aug. 3, when a judge will schedule a trial date.
Miller will be assigned a public defender. Defense attorney Anthony Churchward met with him and represented him in court Thursday, but he has not been assigned to the case.
Miller did not speak in court except to answer “yes” to the judge's questions about understanding his rights and the charges and whether he wanted a public defender.
Outside the Allen County Courthouse, messages written in chalk expressed support for April's family and urged prosecutors not to negotiate a plea agreement with Miller.
“Rest easy April, they finally got him,” one message said.