Murder trial testimony begins

Jurors will never know for sure what weapon was used in the murder of Indiana University student Hannah Wilson, or why she was killed.

Despite that, the state argues that four “pillars of evidence” will prove Daniel Messel, 50, of Bloomington is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

A panel of 11 Brown County women and five men in their mid-20s to mid-50s and -60s heard their first round of testimony today in Brown Circuit Court. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

Prosecutor Ted Adams is presenting a case based on circumstantial evidence: A cellphone which police say is Messel’s, found right below Wilson’s tennis shoes; DNA on Messel’s clothing; a bag of clothes Messel was carrying at the time of his arrest; and Messel’s 2012 Kia Sportage that contains his and Wilson’s DNA.

Brown County resident Carol Bridges found Wilson’s body at about 8:45 a.m. April 24, 2015, in a vacant lot off State Road 45 on Plum Creek Road.

She thought it was a pile of clothes, but then she saw shoes, and that it was actually a woman, face down. She drove back home to a phone and called 911.

Wilson was days away from graduating from IU with a degree in psychology. She had been hired as a cheerleading coach at Fishers High School before starting graduate school in the fall.

The last time her mother, Robin, heard from her was a two-word text about Hannah’s sick cat, at about 8:30 p.m. April 23, 2015. She teared up talking about making funeral arrangements; the high school was the only venue big enough for the mourners.

Public defender Dorie Maryan encouraged jurors to have an open mind, to not let the emotions of this death overwhelm them and to consider only the evidence presented in court.

Maryan alleges the Indiana State Police did not do a thorough investigation, ignoring other potential suspects and pieces of evidence — like a cigarette butt found near Wilson’s body that remains in an evidence locker. Neither Messel nor Wilson were smokers, Maryan said.

Maryan said local resident Tony Dobbs would testify that he approached police shortly after Wilson was found to tell them he saw something unusual: two bearded men wearing camouflage and sunglasses in a white truck, no more than 50 feet from where her body was found.

He told Detective Brian Smith that this happened about about 7 a.m. while driving to Taco Bell for breakfast. That was about an hour and half before Bridges found Wilson’s body.

Dobbs later recanted that statement this spring; he was unclear about the date.

Maryan said the police didn’t know Dobbs had his days mixed up until this year. She also argued that the Indiana State Police did not follow up with Dobbs and did not try to get a description to make sketches of the two men.

“It’s the rush to judgment that got us here,” Maryan said.

Wilson’s night

Thursday night, April 23, was the start of Little 500 weekend at IU. Wilson had just completed an exam that would allow her to earn her degree. Everyone was going out, Adams said.

After a night of drinking, Wilson’s friends decided to send her home. They put her in a taxi at 12:55 a.m. and never saw her again.

Adams said the driver will testify that he watched Wilson enter her building, at Eighth and Dunn streets in Bloomington, “pouting” about being sent home.

Her last phone call was to a friend, Colt Burnette, at 1:02 a.m. He couldn’t hear her because he was in a nearby bar.

Her roommate heard the door open at 1:05 a.m., but never heard it closed.

Another roommate returned at 9 a.m. to find the door had been left ajar. At 8:34 a.m., Wilson’s body was found.

Messel’s night

The night of April 23, Messel was taking part in trivia night at Yogi’s Grill and Bar, something he did often, Adams said.

First, he picked up a friend, Matthew Brighton, in his 2012 Kia Sportage and texted Brighton – using the same phone found under Wilson’s lifeless feet – to let him know he was there.

Messel dropped Brighton off after trivia night at around midnight.

A vehicle with similar characteristics and features to Messel’s can be seen in surveillance video taken from the Showers Inn Bed and Breakfast on Eighth Street. It’s driving behind the taxi that would drop Wilson off at her home at Eighth and Dunn around 1 a.m.

At about 6:30 a.m. April 24, Messel can be seen on a security video filling up his gas tank at a Speedway station. Then he stops at a nearby McDonald’s to use the restroom. He was driving a Kia Sportage — the car the prosecution says contains Wilson’s DNA.

At 10:30 a.m. video shows him withdrawing $150 from IU Credit Union. He had $155 in his account.

At 5:30 p.m. April 24, Messel returned to the home he shared with his father, who told him the Indiana State Police were looking for him. His cellphone had been found in Brown County, and police had told his father that Messel had done something “very bad, the worst of the worst.”

Messel went into his bedroom, grabbed a plastic bag and started walking toward his Sportage. Before he could make it to the carport, multiple state police vehicles began pulling in.

Officers drew their guns and demanded Messel get down on the ground.

He threw the bag aside — which contained blood-stained clothing, including a Cincinnati Reds T-shirt with Wilson’s blood on it — and followed police orders, Adams said.

Inside Messel’s Sportage, a red IU pullover sweatshirt was found that was determined to have Wilson’s DNA on it. It is what Messel was wearing when he left Yogi’s the night of April 23.

His defense attorney argued that if Messel killed Wilson and had a pocket full of money, why would he return home if he thought the police were after him? “Dan should have got the heck out of town,” she said.

Testimony this afternoon is to include Wilson’s friends.

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