Jurors in a murder trial starting this month in Brown County will be able to hear about DNA evidence that does not belong to the accused or to the victim, and they will see a vehicle that contains the victim’s blood.
They won’t see an “inappropriate” photograph that was found on the victim’s cellphone, and they might not be able to see video footage that may show the suspect’s car driving through Bloomington and toward Brown County, where Hannah Wilson’s body was found in a vacant lot in April 2015.
Unknown DNA was discovered on the grass and debris at the crime scene and in the car, court documents state.
Prosecutor Ted Adams wanted to prevent anyone from suggesting at trial that a third party committed the crime and not Daniel Messel, 50, of Bloomington, who has been charged with murder.
DNA samples from Messel’s shoes, jeans, T-shirt and pullover were consistent with DNA profiles taken from Wilson and him, Adams said.
Adams told the court it is not uncommon for unknown DNA profiles to be discovered because the technology is advancing and is able to detect more data.
Five people had contact, either in person or via text, with Wilson the night of her murder, including the cab driver who dropped her off after a night out with friends at bars in Bloomington.
Three others sent text messages; another, a friend, had sex with Wilson the night of the murder, court documents said.
Adams said if the defense is going to argue that one of those people is responsible for her death, they would need more than a text message.
Dorie Maryan, Messel’s attorney, argued that her client has a right to present evidence related to a possible third party.
She plans to use the unknown DNA samples to show that the Indiana State Police did not thoroughly investigate the possibility of other suspects.
Judge Judith Stewart ruled the DNA admissible and relevant because it was found at the crime scene.
She ruled that Maryan can make an argument about whether the police conducted a proper investigation. However, Maryan may not directly accuse a third party but can make a general statement referring to the possibility of a third party being responsible.
The defense will be allowed to use evidence of Wilson’s activities the night she was killed. Maryan said she planned to use that in an argument about police not thoroughly investigating other suspects.
With no objection from the defense, Stewart granted Adams’ request to allow the jury to view Messel’s 2012 Kia Sportage — the vehicle the prosecution says he was driving the night of April 23, 2015.
But the police have to bring it to them.
Jurors cannot be transported to a police evidence garage in Bloomington to view it, which was Adams’ original request.
“We got it down there, we can get it up here,” Stewart said.
Adams said the Sportage is covered in blood splatters, but the evidence photos don’t show the extent.
Messel also asked to see the car in person so that he is “better able to prepare the defense in this manner,” Maryan said.
Citing security concerns and the possibility of intentional evidence contamination, Adams objected to allowing Messel to see the car in person.
Stewart ruled that Messel will be allowed to view the vehicle before the trial, but he will remain in custody and physical restraints “as deemed necessary by law enforcement” and will not be allowed to touch the vehicle.
Stewart hasn’t ruled yet about Maryan’s motion to exclude video surveillance the state intended to use. That hearing will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 27.
Indiana State Police Trooper Thomas Egler reported 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. Video was taken from businesses in Bloomington and Brown County.
However, Egler is not a “car expert,” and he rests his opinion on the shape of the headlights and taillights without “taking into consideration the fact that the lighting distorts that shape,” Messel’s attorney argued. There were also no identifying features on Messel’s car that would differentiate it from other Sportages, Maryan said.
The trial is scheduled to start Thursday, July 28 in Brown Circuit Court.