All that Janet Tinsley has ever wanted for her daughter April Marie Tinsley was justice.
In July, there was a break in what was Allen County’s most notorious cold case.
John D. Miller was arrested after DNA lead police to his mobile home in Grabill. Nearly six months later, the man accused of abducting, molesting and killing the 8-year-old Tinsley in 1988 has pleaded guilty.
As part of a plea deal, Miller agreed to spend 80 years in prison: 50 years for the murder charge and 30 years for child molesting.
The surprise development came during a regularly scheduled change of venue hearing inside Allen Superior Court Friday.
However, Tinsley’s family said that’s not enough.
April’s mother, Janet Tinsley, sat front row as Miller read a statement to the judge – admitting to having “sexual intercourse” with her daughter then strangling her.
“You’re just thinking to yourself… ‘what did I just hear?'” said Tinsley. “I was expecting him to say, ‘you know I did it.’ But what got me is when he read and said how he did it.”
For Tinsley, Miller’s admission of guilt could never be enough to heal a 30-year-old wound. One that was opened the day April went missing in 1988 and has scarred the Tinsley family in ways unimaginable.
It was 30 years ago when Tinsley was abducted from her south-central Fort Wayne neighborhood as she walked to a friend’s home to pick up an umbrella. The first grader’s body was found by a jogger three days later in a ditch along a road in southern DeKalb County. She had been sexually molested, suffocated and dead for at least two days.
The case went cold until mid-July, when police announced they’d made an arrest.
According to a probable cause affidavit, police found Miller after a DNA technology company that was working with Fort Wayne Police narrowed down a suspect to two brothers: Miller and another man. After that early July development, police began surveillance on Miller’s mobile home in Grabill and began to analyze his trash.
Police recovered three used condoms from Miller’s trash. The DNA pulled from those was used to tie Miller to Tinsley’s rape and death.
“There’s one word I want to start out with,” said Tinsley. “It’s the word why. And I want him to answer why. Why her? [What] possessed him to do what he did.”
Tinsley said she and her family were hoping for for a trial and ultimately the death penalty. Instead, Miller is taking a plea deal. Tinsley said she and her husband told Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards they did not want Miller to get a deal. She learned a week and a half before Friday’s hearing that Miller would change his plea to guilty. It has left Tinsley feeling conflicted about if justice has been served.
“In a way, part of me says yeah, I got him off the street,” she said. “And part of me says no because April still ain’t got justice. He got to live another 30 years after, now he gets to live another 3, 4, five years depending on his health. She never got that chance.”
Miller was charged with murder and child molesting in the case. He was scheduled to stand trial in February.
Instead, he’ll be sentenced Dec. 31. A judge must still approve the deal.
Tinsley said in her moment of grief and frustration she looked to her daughter for guidance.
“I sat there and looked at her picture and I said, ‘alright child, what do you want mama to do? Do you want mama to give in and let him have what he’s got? Or do you want me to fight more?'” she said.”I usually get a sign somewhere but I haven’t got a sign yet.”
Tinsley hopes that sign will come very soon.