Public defender Dorie Maryan tried to block cellphone data from being introduced in her client Daniel Messel’s murder trial in Brown County, but her objection was overruled.
Maryan argued that a recent ruling by the Indiana Court of Appeals adds a level of protection under the Fourth of Amendment for cellphone data, similar to the protection a person receives when police obtain search warrants or orders to search a home or a vehicle.
Maryan is arguing the warrant used to obtain information from Messel’s phone may have received more scrutiny before being signed if the new law had been in place. She said the evidence from the cellphone may not be admissible.
Deputy Prosecutor James T. Roberts argued that the Court of Appeals case is different from Messel’s because that case involved an emergency request made directly to a cellphone provider and did not have a warrant.
Judge Judith Stewart overruled Maryan’s objection. Jurors will be allowed to hear the evidence.
Messel, 50, of Bloomington, is charged in the murder of Hannah Wilson, an Indiana University student whose body was found in Brown County in April 2015. Cellphone data could show where his phone was the night of the murder and the next morning.
Stewart said it was important to note in light of the recent Court of Appeals ruling that an expectation of privacy exists when it comes to cellphone data.
“What we have to look at here is was the expectation of privacy respected here? I believe that it was,” Stewart said.
U.S. Marshal Jeremy Clinton, a member of the U.S. Marshal Technical Operation Group, testified about the general location of Messel’s cellphone on April 23 and 24, 2015, the days Wilson was killed and her body was discovered in northwest Brown County.
Clinton received range to tower data, or RTT, from Verizon Wireless on April 24 after obtaining a court order for information from the cellphone found under Wilson’s lifeless feet.
“Your phone is constantly communicating with the network,” Clinton said.
RTT data gives the approximate location of a cellphone. The information is from transactions a cellphone makes with cellular towers.
The data is “collected for the functionality report for the network” and not specifically for law enforcement purposes, Clinton said. “They want to see the ‘Can you hear me now?’ problem areas,” he said.
Clinton testified that the cellphone found at the murder scene — which was connected to Messel’s number — made a “transaction,” or communicated with a tower at Eighth/Washington streets in downtown Bloomington at around 11 p.m. April 23, 2015. That area includes Eighth, Washington, Walnut and Dunn streets near the edge of the IU campus.
Wilson lived on Eighth Street and had been at a bar on Walnut Street. A taxi dropped her off at corner of Eighth and Dunn.
From 11:30 p.m. to 11:50 p.m., the general location of the cellphone was on the west side of Bloomington. That area would include South Rolling Ridge Way, Clinton testified.
That is where Messel’s co-worker Matthew Brighton lived. Messel allegedly dropped Brighton off at home after a night of trivia around this time.
At around 1 a.m., the phone’s approximate location was back in the downtown Bloomington area. Clinton testified that the area was consistent with the address of Hannah Wilson’s home on Eighth Street.
From 2 to 3 a.m., the phone’s general location moves north out of Bloomington toward Griffy Lake Natural Preserve and ultimately northeast toward Lake Lemon and into Brown County, according to Clinton.
Clinton testified the data shows the cellphone found under Wilson’s feet interacted with a cellular tower in Brown County at around 2:58 a.m.
Maryan asked if the device seems to move back toward campus at 1:49 a.m., when it had been headed toward Griffy Lake at 1:41 a.m., and Clinton testified that was correct.
Roberts argued that the data only shows the general location of the phone and is not exact.
“You can testify as to what addresses would be in those locations, but can’t put the phone on somebody’s doorstep?” Roberts asked Clinton.
“No, sir,” he said.
Indiana State Police Detective Tom Egler testified that a vehicle with similar characteristics to the 2012 Kia Sportage Messel had the day he was arrested can be seen on security videos.
A similar vehicle appears less than a minute behind the white, four-door Toyota Prius E2 taxi that dropped Wilson off near her home.
The Sportage was seen two separate times on two videos — one facing east, one facing west — from the Showers Inn Bed and Breakfast surveillance system that was facing Eighth Street. Once was at 1 a.m.; the second sighting was at 1:07 a.m.
Police saw a vehicle with similar characteristics to the Sportage a total of six times from the Showers Inn surveillance on Eighth Street, Egler said. The last sighting was at 1:57 a.m.
The jury watched those videos from Showers Inn with Egler stopping the footage whenever a vehicle with similar characteristics to Messel’s appeared.
Video from a McDonald’s on the city’s north side shows Messel entering to use the restroom April 24. That tape was used to help Egler determine the characteristics of Messel’s vehicle, he said.
After Wilson’s body was discovered, Egler began canvassing the Plum Creek neighborhood in northwest Brown County, talking with witnesses and gathering any video surveillance that may have shown something related to the crime.
Time is of the essence when it comes to gathering video because some systems automatically record over themselves, he said. An example was the video from inside the taxi Wilson rode in. It had already over-written with new video by the time police tried to obtain copies, Roberts said.
Before lunch, the attorneys discussed whether or not the jury would see video footage taken from two locations on State Road 45. One was about 15 minutes from Plum Creek Road/State Road 45 where Wilson’s body was found, Egler testified.
The dark, grainy footage from both locations shows a vehicle traveling along State Road 45 off in the distance.
“I don’t think it clearly depicts anything other than headlights and taillights,” Maryan said.
Judge Stewart upheld Maryan’s objection to showing jurors the footage because it is too vague, she said.
But Stewart allowed the defense to question Egler in the presence of jurors about how many cars traveled on State Road 45 from 2 to 3 a.m.
Egler testified that one car was captured on tape by a family’s home surveillance system, at 3:23 a.m. traveling toward Bloomington on State Road 45.
Additional footage from Pritchard’s Service Center in the 6000 block of State 45 shows a vehicle traveling toward Bloomington at 3:26 a.m. Egler testified that from 3 to 3:30 a.m. only one vehicle was seen traveling on State Road 45 on both videos.
Egler said it took him about two to three minutes to drive between the family’s home where the first video was taken and Pritchard’s Service Center depending on speed.
Egler told the lawyers, outside the presence of the jury, that the time frame was important because of an interview he did with Tanya Adams, who lives on State Road 45 near where Wilson’s body was found.
Adams told police that her dogs were barking loudly at around 3 a.m. and woke her up — which was unusual, she said.
“We have a very large Rottweiler that we have to keep on a cable connected to a very large dog house, and he had pulled and pulled so hard he dug a hole in the yard,” she testified on the first day of the trial.