Appeals court upholds murder conviction, sentence

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction and sentence of a Bloomington man who was found guilty in 2016 of murdering an Indiana University student.

Brown County attorney Kurt Young filed an appeal on behalf of Daniel Messel, 51, of Bloomington, earlier this year. He argued that jurors shouldn’t have heard evidence about Messel possibly having a Maglite flashlight if it was never proven that he had one or that one was used to kill IU student Hannah Wilson in Brown County.

Messel is serving an 80-year sentence after a Brown County jury found him guilty.

Young asked the court to grant Messel a new trial, to reduce his sentence or grant him a re-sentencing.

Wilson’s body was found by a passerby in a vacant lot on Plum Creek Road in April 2015, not far from State Road 45. An autopsy showed Wilson, of Fishers, died from at least four blunt-force strikes to the head from something rounded.

The doctor who conducted the autopsy testified that it would have been shaped like a baseball bat, a pipe or a large tree limb. But a murder weapon was never found.

Young said the flashlight testimony from a co-worker invited the jury to speculate that Messel actually had a Maglite that was of a size that could produce Wilson’s wounds. That testimony caused the jury to think that Messel was “a dangerous armed man” and “severely prejudiced” the jury against him, Young argued.

In a brief filed June 29, the appeals court said the flashlight mention was harmless considering all the other evidence.

Messel’s cellphone was found by Wilson’s body; Wilson’s blood, DNA and hair were found in Messel’s car; and Messel was carrying a garbage bag full of clothes covered in blood that contained Hannah’s DNA when he was arrested, the court said.

“Given this overwhelming independent evidence of Messel’s guilt, we find that there is no substantial likelihood that the evidence related to his past ownership of a ‘mag light’ contributed to this conviction,” the brief reads.

Young also argued that the 80-year sentence Messel received was inappropriate because it did not take in mitigating factors. A mitigating factor is information that might result in reduced charges or a lesser sentence.

In its brief, the appeals court recounted the facts from that night including Messel emptying his bank account, filling up his gas tank and attempting to dispose of evidence before he was arrested the day of Wilson’s murder.

“Nothing about the appalling nature of this offense renders his sentence inappropriate,” the brief states.

The court also noted Messel’s criminal history — including multiple misdemeanors for battery, resisting law enforcement and operating a vehicle while intoxicated along with a Class C felony forgery charge and three counts of Class C felony battery — and that he violated probation multiple times.

“His many contacts with the criminal justice system have not caused him to reform his behavior and his crimes have only become more serious with time,” the brief states.

Messel is preparing for another, unrelated trial in Monroe County for attempted rape. He was charged in October after police used DNA collected during the murder investigation in Brown County.

The victim in the attempted rape case came forward after reading about testimony in the murder trial. She told IU Police she believed Messel may have been the man who attacked her in 2012. The Indiana State Police lab said his DNA was a match.

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