One hundred fifty Brown County residents are being asked in court whether or not extensive media coverage has caused them to be biased against a murder suspect.
Seventy-five Brown County residents were questioned individually Thursday by Judge Judith A. Stewart, public defender Dorie Maryan, Prosecutor Ted Adams and Deputy Prosecutor James T. Roberts. Seventy-five more are on the list to be questioned today.
Questions included: Where do you get your news? Do the names Hannah Wilson or Daniel Messel mean anything to you? If you were in Messel’s shoes, would you want yourself to serve as a juror for this murder trial?
Some were excused because they said they had bias against Messel, 50, of Bloomington, who is charged with killing Indiana University student Hannah Wilson last April. Her body was discovered on Plum Creek Road in Brown County.
“I keep thinking about the phone,” one potential female juror told the court, about a cellphone police said was Messel’s found at the crime scene. “It’s stuck in my mind.”
“The cellphone pretty much told on him. … He told on himself right there,” another potential male juror said.
Both were excused from the jury pool.
Another woman was excused because her granddaughter attended IU with Wilson.
Others were excused because they couldn’t give Messel a presumption of innocence or couldn’t disregard information they have read, seen or heard in the media.
But others hadn’t formed an opinion about Messel or even heard much about the case.
“I try to be fair,” one woman said.
“I think it needs to be unprejudiced and unbiased as it can be,” another female juror said. She addressed Messel directly: “I don’t even know you.”
If bias against Messel is determined to exist in the jury pool, Stewart will move the trial out of Brown County, as the defense had asked.
But she will wait until all of the jury questioning is finished before making that decision.
Jurors will be allowed to see some video evidence, but not all of what the prosecution wanted to present.
Images were taken from video surveillance at the Showers Inn Bed and Breakfast, which is near Wilson’s apartment. According to State Trooper Thomas Egler, the first image shows the taxi they believe dropped Wilson off at her apartment. The second shows a Kia Sportage driving seconds behind the taxi.
Police say Wilson’s blood was found in Messel’s silver/gray 2012 Kia Sportage.
Jurors will be allowed to see those images. But no witnesses will be allowed to say that the images show Messel or his vehicle.
Only one piece of footage shows Messel getting out of his Kia Sportage at a McDonald’s in Bloomington. Maryan argued that there is no way to positively identify the vehicle or driver in the other videos because Egler was unable to see the driver’s face or a license plate.
Witnesses also will have to explain the time differences in some of the videos.
Egler testified that some time stamps may be off because the owners of the security cameras may have forgotten to update them when the time changed or because of power outages.
Proceeding with caution
Testimony that refers to scratches on Messel’s forearms at the time of his arrest as “claw marks” or “defensive scratch marks” will not be allowed.
Maryan argued that Messel could have been scratched during his arrest “when he was taken down to the ground by multiple officers” and handcuffed. She said the scratches also could have been days old, could have been caused by his dog or happened at work.
Witnesses may testify to seeing the marks as long as there is no “speculation or characterization as to the cause of the marks,” Stewart ruled.
Maryan also asked that the state not mention Messel’s attitude, conduct or conversations he had with officers that were unrelated to the murder charge after he was arrested and read his rights.
The state intended to have officers testify that Messel “was not surprised” they pulled up to his house. “My look of surprise may be someone’s interpretation of shock, dismay,” Maryan argued.
Stewart cautioned the state to not use testimony that speculates as to someone’s state of mind.
Maryan also wanted exhibits about “ping data” related to Messel’s cellphone activity April 23 to 24 to be excluded. She said that data doesn’t show the exact location of a phone, only its distance from a tower.
Stewart ruled that the “maps” containing the data may not be used in opening statements or otherwise until testimony is offered as to the “accuracy and relevancy of the maps.”
The jury is expected to be chosen by Monday, if enough impartial jurors can be found in Brown County. Once they are seated, the trial, expected to take up to two weeks, can proceed with the introduction of evidence.