Murder case evidence being debated in court

Brown County jurors might travel to Bloomington to see a vehicle the state says is covered in the blood of a murdered Indiana University student.

But they might be restricted from seeing or hearing about video evidence and the activities of the victim earlier that night if the state and prosecution get their way.

The trial of Daniel Messel, 50, of Bloomington, is scheduled to start July 28 in Brown Circuit Court.

Messel’s 2012 Kia Sportage — the vehicle the prosecution says he was driving the night of April 23, 2015 — has been stored an Indiana State Police evidence garage. More than 100 photos of it have been submitted into evidence.

Prosecutor Ted Adams told the court July 6 that the Sportage is covered in blood splatters, but the photos don’t completely show the extent.

Seeing the vehicle in person would allow jurors to further understand the testimony of crime scene investigators and the expert who examined the blood splatters, he said.

Messel also has asked to see the car in person so that he is “better able to prepare the defense in this manner,” said his attorney, Dorie Maryan.

He has been housed in the jail since April 24, 2015, charged with the murder of IU student Hannah Wilson of Fishers.

Her body was discovered about 10 miles northwest of Indiana University’s Bloomington campus on Plum Creek Road in northern Brown County.

Citing security concerns and the possibility of intentional evidence contamination, Adams objected to allowing Messel to see the car in person. Paul Suding, the district investigative commander for the ISP post, shared the concern about evidence being destroyed.

But Maryan argued that her client’s first view of the car should not be alongside the jurors, and that if the photos are not enough for jurors, then they aren’t enough for her client.

Judge Judith Stewart said this was the first time she’d received a request for a jury or a defendant to go to a secured police facility to see evidence.

On July 7, she granted Messel’s request with restrictions. He will be allowed to view the vehicle before the trial, but he shall remain in custody and physical restraints “as deemed necessary by law enforcement.” He will not touch the vehicle, she said.

Maryan also must be present during the viewing.

As of press time, Stewart hadn’t yet ruled on the request for the jury to see the vehicle.

Excluding evidence

Both sides also filed motions last week to exclude potential evidence from being introduced at trial.

Wilson had been sexually active with a friend the night of her murder, according to statements made in depositions, Adams said. The victim’s cellphone also showed an explicit photo, the state’s motion said.

Adams argued that while the victim’s whereabouts before her disappearance and murder are relevant to establish a timeline for the night she was killed, any sexual contact she may have had wouldn’t lead to the identification of her killer, since no semen was found on her body.

Mention of those details may deflect attention from the evidence that’s actually relevant to the case and confuse the jury, and may prejudice them against her, Adams said.

Adams also wants Stewart to prevent either side from suggesting that a third party committed the crime.

“Unknown DNA,” gender unspecified, was discovered on the grass and debris at the crime scene.

Unknown male DNA was found on Messel’s shoe, and unknown DNA on two places on Messel’s jeans, Adams’ argument said.

Unknown male DNA was found under Wilson’s fingernails, and unknown female DNA from hairs was discovered on the floor in the back seat of Messel’s vehicle, the document said.

DNA samples from Messel’s shoes, jeans, T-shirt and pullover were consistent with DNA profiles taken from him and Wilson, Adams said.

Adams argued that DNA does not disappear with time and can be deposited over weeks or months.

He argues that in order to be admissible in court, the unknown DNA evidence must directly connect any third party to the crime charged.

Maryan asked to exclude video surveillance the state intended to use. It was recorded at businesses in both Bloomington and Brown County.

Trooper Thomas Egler reported in his deposition that a vehicle that appears to be a Kia Sportage is shown on the IU campus between 1 and 2 a.m. and heading to Bloomington on State Road 45 after 3 a.m.

However, Egler is not a “car expert,” Maryan argues. She said he rests his opinion on the shape of the headlights and taillights without “taking into consideration the fact that the lighting distorts that shape.”

Maryan said Egler was unable to see a license and could not make out the driver, and Messel’s Sportage did not have anything on it that differentiated it from other Sportages.

“Ultimately, Egler’s opening is nothing more than wild speculation,” Maryan wrote.

Stewart set a hearing about the video evidence and Egler’s testimony for July 13.