Judge: Jury pool for murder trial not tainted

A judge ruled June 1 that the juror pool in Brown County is not tainted and that the trial of a man accused of murdering an Indiana University student will proceed here.

However, Judge Judith Stewart is reserving a final decision on moving the trial until the real jury is questioned.

Twenty-nine Brown County residents were brought in as a test jury at the Brown County Courthouse June 1 to see if bias exists against Daniel E. Messel due to pretrial publicity.

Each was about their knowledge of the case, the evidence, the suspect, his criminal past and allegations connecting him to the disappearance of another student.

Messel, 50, of Bloomington, will be tried for the death of IU student Hannah Wilson as early as Aug. 1. Her body was discovered in Brown County in April 2015 on Plum Creek Road.

Aug. 1 is currently reserved for another jury trial, but a plea deal is pending in that case. If the plea deal is accepted, Aug. 1 will become Messel’s date.

If bias was determined to to exist, Stewart was going to agree to move the trial out of county, as the defense had asked.

“Your answers here today will help me make the right decision,” she told the test jurors.

The test jury will not actually hear the case; another jury will be called to serve.

“I think we’re going to be able to find a fair and impartial jury,” Prosecutor Ted Adams said, maintaining the state’s objection to moving the trial.

Defense attorney Dorie Maryan had cited continued “prejudicial pretrial publicity” by Bloomington news agencies which could have reached Brown County.

News stories appeared about an inmate who claimed to have knowledge linking Messel to the disappearance of IU student Lauren Spierer and to the murder of IU student Jill Behrman.

Out of the 29 test jurors, five had knowledge about an alleged Messel/Spierer connection. Six other test jurors said they had heard about a connection after Maryan specifically named Spierer. None mentioned a connection to Berhman.

Twelve test jurors had little to no knowledge about the case, and five did not bring up the alleged Messel/Spierer connection at all.

One woman testified that she could not serve as a juror because she had formed an opinion about Messel that she could not set aside. News stories contributed to her opinion, but she said she also heard things in the hospital where she works, from someone in the psychiatric unit.

Most of the other jurors said they would be able to set their opinions aside and give Messel the presumption of innocence.

The defense was given two weeks to submit a written argument in favor of the change of venue and the state was given one week thereafter to answer it.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.