During what was supposed to be a hearing on moving the case out of Allen County, the man accused of the 1988 abduction, assault and murder of April Tinsley pleaded guilty late Friday morning in Allen Superior Court.
In July, Allen County prosecutors charged John D. Miller, 59, of Grabill, with murder and child molesting in connection with Tinsley's death. The 8-year-old girl was abducted from a south side street on Good Friday as she walked home. Her body was found a few days later in rural DeKalb County.
On Friday, seated next to his court-appointed attorney Anthony Churchward, Miller read a statement he wrote, attesting to his actions and bringing to an end the 30-year-old-case.
Now all that is left is the sentencing, to be imposed on Dec. 31. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Miller faces 50 years in prison on the charge of murder, and an additional 30 years in prison on the charge of child molesting.
Those sentences are based in the law as it existed for those felonies in 1988, and will be served one after another, for a total of 80 years.
The difference this time was what is now known as "genetic geneology." It involves using DNA collected via open public DNA databases and comparing it to potential suspect DNA.
Similar testing was done earlier this year to narrow in on the notorious Golden State Killer in California.
In 2004, DNA was found in three used condoms, along with notes from someone claiming to be her killer. The DNA was consistent with DNA collected from Tinsley's body.
In May, Fort Wayne Police Detective Brian Martin used the DNA collected in 2004 and compared it to the publicly available DNA using a private laboratory that specializes in "snapshot DNA phenotyping." That work allowed investigators to narrow on potential matches that included Miller's surviving brother.
“There’s so many people in genealogy," Martin said after the hearing. "Using these open source databases, you don’t have to be in there. Your cousin, your sister, your brother, your great, great uncle could be in there and that would allow us to ultimately find you.”
Police began watching Miller, according to court documents.
Miller lived alone in a mobile home in Grabill, and in July Fort Wayne police went through his trash. Inside the trash they found more used condoms, and additional DNA tying him to Tinsley, according to court documents.
During Friday's hearing, Tinsley's family sat in the front row, listening for the first time to someone admit to the crimes.
As Miller read from the statement, an aunt reached over and draped her arm around Tinsley's mother's shoulder.
"I abducted April Tinsley," Miller said. "I had sexual intercourse with her...after having sex with her I strangled her with my hands, killing her."