Murder trial begins; friends of victim, accused describe fateful night

The day she was murdered, Indiana University senior Hannah Wilson was out celebrating.

She was days away from graduating with a psychology degree. She had been hired as a cheerleading coach at Fishers High School before starting graduate school in the fall. She had just finished an exam required for graduation for which she had studied all week, and she thought she did well.

“She was happy and in a great mood,” best friend Elizabeth Mazzocco testified in Brown Circuit Court.

That night was a Thursday, April 23, 2015. The 22-year-old Wilson went out drinking with friends. It was Little 500 weekend on the IU campus.

A former boyfriend, Alex Wojno, was in town. The two met up at Kilroy’s Bar and Grill on Kirkwood Avenue around 4:30 or 5 p.m. and returned to Kilroy’s later that day with more friends, including Mazzocco.

They took one last group photo on Wilson’s phone shortly before they departed the bar around 9:30 p.m.

Mazzocco and Wilson walked with a group from Kilroy’s. When they hit a cross street, Mazzocco went one way and Wilson went another.

That was the last time Mazzocco saw her best friend alive.

Wilson returned to her home at 513 E. Eighth St. with her ex and another friend. They began drinking in her kitchen; Wilson was taking shots.

Wilson and her friends decided to get a taxi. It dropped a friend off at another party; Wilson and her ex went to a nearby hotel together. They were later joined by another group of friends for more drinking.

A friend had to help Wilson put on her shoes before leaving the hotel. The group was headed to Kilroy’s Sports on Walnut Street.

When they got to Kilroy’s, Wilson’s friends decided she was too intoxicated to go inside. They called a cab and helped her in.

“She was begging to stay. She was begging the man in the beard to go with her,” said Wes Yeatman, the taxi driver.

Wojno, the man with the beard, paid Yeatman $20 to take Wilson home, about four blocks away. The driver said he wasn’t given a specific address.

Yeatman testified that he dropped Wilson off at the corner of Eighth and Dunn streets. She got out of the cab, walked between two cars and into the night.

He did not see her enter her home.

What happened next remains a mystery.

When Ashley Harding, Wilson’s roommate, returned home the next morning, the door to their home was open. The passcode was closely guarded; they never shared it, even with their closest friends, Harding said.

Wilson wasn’t there. Harding started a group text with her roommates.

One roommate admitted to leaving the door open after she took out recycling, but texted Harding later that day to say she lied to avoid conflict within the home.

“At that point I was really worried,” Harding said.

None of Wilson’s friends could reach her. She always had her phone.

After finding out she wasn’t with her parents, her friends called police.

Wilson’s friends arrived at her place to find her phone, purse and miscellaneous items on her unmade bed.

That morning, at about 8:45, Brown County resident Carol Bridges found Wilson’s body face-down in a vacant lot off State Road 45 on Plum Creek Road.

A pathologist determined she died from blunt-force trauma to the head. She was hit about four times until the back of her skull was crushed.

A cellphone was found under her lifeless feet.

By about 5:30 p.m. that day, Indiana State Police were swarming the home of the owner of that phone, Daniel Messel, 50, of Bloomington. Guns were drawn. Messel threw a plastic bag to the side and laid on the ground.

On trial

On Aug. 1, Messel went on trial for Wilson’s murder in Brown Circuit Court.Public defender Dorie Maryan encouraged the jury panel of 11 women and five men to not let the emotions of Wilson’s death overwhelm them and to consider only the evidence presented.

“Your job is not to figure out who killed Hannah Wilson,” she told the jury and alternates. “That was the Indiana State Police’s job, and it remains their job. Your only test is to consider the evidence presented to you.”

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.

Local resident Tony Dobbs told police he noticed something unusual on the morning he thought Wilson’s body was found: two bearded men wearing camouflage and sunglasses in a white truck no more than 50 feet from that spot.

He later recanted that statement. Maryan said the ISP didn’t know Dobbs had his days mixed up until this year, and they did not follow up with Dobbs to try to get a description for sketches of the two men.

Maryan asked Wilson’s male friends — who were some of the last people to see her alive — if the ISP asked them for a DNA sample or fingerprints. They did not, the men testified.

Lead Detective Michael Z. Robbins said the ISP didn’t feel it was necessary.

None of the other men’s cellphones were found under Wilson’s feet, he said.

The college students, and other suspects, were interviewed “to make sure the gentleman we had in custody at the time was the correct person,” he said.

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, Prosecutor Ted Adams said.First, Messel 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 drank that night, but not to excess. Their waitress told the court he’d had about two or three beers.

The group began playing around 9 p.m. and left together around 11 p.m., Brighton in Messel’s car.

He dropped Brighton off at his apartment around 11:30, but not before driving past Kilroy’s Sports Bar.

“We decided to go that way because you never know what you’re going to see on Little 500,” Brighton told the court.

At around 1 a.m., in a security video taken from the Showers Inn Bed and Breakfast, a vehicle similar to Messel’s can be seen driving on Eighth Street behind the taxi that would drop Wilson off at Eighth and Dunn.

Showers Inn is less than a half-mile from Wilson’s home.

Brighton testified that Messel had told him about owning a Maglite flashlight. He believed he carried it in his car, but Brighton said he had never seen it.

After hearing about Wilson’s body being found and Messel’s arrest, Brighton contacted the ISP about the flashlight.

Police never recovered a murder weapon. The pathologist told police that it could be cylindrical in shape, like a baseball bat or pipe.

On Aug. 5, the jury was taken to the Brown County Law Enforcement Center to see Messel’s vehicle. Messel also went.

The group spent about five minutes inside. No one was permitted to speak to each other, and no trial observers were allowed in.

Adams told the court the blood spatters in the car were so numerous and concentrated that photos couldn’t show the full extent.

Off the radar

At about 6:30 a.m. April 24, Messel can be seen on a security video filling the tank of his Sportage at a Speedway on the north side of Bloomington. Then he stops at a nearby McDonald’s to use the restroom.At 10:30 a.m., video shows him withdrawing $150 of the $155 in his account at IU Credit Union.

At around 5 p.m., Messel returned to the home he shared with his father on Ison Road.

His cellphone had been found in Brown County. Police had told his father that Messel had done something “very bad, the worst of the worst.”

Messel went to 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 his blood on it — and followed police orders, Adams said.

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

This is the first murder case to go to trial in Brown County in seven years. It is expected to last until the end of this week.

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.