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Monday, August 01, 2016

Ind. Courts - Rare Murder Trial This Week at Brown County Courthouse

"Slam dunk or rush to judgment? Messel trial jurors will decide" is the heading of a $$$ July 31 story in the Bloomington Herald-Times. A few quotes:

NASHVILLE — There was no mystery to solve, Brown County Prosecutor Ted Adams said, when it came to figuring out whom to charge with killing Hannah Wilson in the spring of last year, just two weeks before she was to graduate from Indiana University. Investigator's found Daniel Messel's cellphone on the ground beneath Wilson's beaten body.

And when police tracked Messel down at home, he was leaving, carrying a clear trash bag containing jeans, shoes and a T-shirt, all stained with the 22-year-old college student's blood. Tests later confirmed it was Wilson's hair and blood inside the accused killer's 2012 Kia Sportage, the prosecutor said. An IU tunic inside the SUV had her blood on it as well.

"A cellphone was the key ... then the clothing in the trash bag," Adams told potential jurors this week during a two-minute synopsis of the case. "There was no mystery." * * *

"Daniel Messel was on their radar after the cellphone was found, and he was under arrest for murder a mere 13 hours later," [defense attorney Dorie] Maryan said. "Was this good police work, or a rush to judgment that caused them to disregard leads that would have proved him innocent?" * * *

Wilson was out partying during Little 500 Weekend in 2015 when friends decided she was too intoxicated and paid a cab driver to take her to her house on East Eighth Street. Police say she arrived there, but went missing soon after.

Her body was discovered hours later in Brown County. That afternoon, when Wilson's friends reported her missing to police, a detective at the scene texted a picture of the unidentified victim to the officer taking the report, and Wilson's identity was confirmed.

An Indianapolis Star story Sunday, reported by Madeline Buckley, is subheaded: "The county prepares for only its third murder trial in recent decades." A few quotes:
The Brown County Courthouse is an unassuming, red-brick building with a tidy patch of flowers near the door. It stands in the middle of Nashville, Ind., a town of 1,000 that seems frozen in time. Candy shops and stores that sell homemade fudge fill out the brown wooden buildings that line downtown. An old-fashioned train takes sightseers through Main Street, advertising historic tours. * * *

Thousands mourned [Hannah] Wilson, and a mountain of media coverage followed the killing. Her death also brought to the surface other dark moments for IU students: the 2012 disappearance of Lauren Spierer and the 2000 murder of Jill Behrman.

Brown Circuit Judge Judith Stewart, the sole judge in Brown County, besides a magistrate, on Thursday began the long process of questioning 150 potential jurors, one by one, to determine whether their judgments of the case have been swayed by intensive pretrial publicity.

"It's stuck in my mind that his cellphone was found," Juror No. 154 told Stewart on Thursday.

"Anyone who is charged with a crime is presumed innocent," Stewart responded. "Could you disregard what Facebook said about the cellphone?"

The woman shrugged. Then she voiced doubt that she could forget what she read.

"You are excused," Stewart said courteously.

Next came an older man. He wore a light denim jacket with jeans and had a shock of white hair. The juror made those in court laugh when he said his wife had formed an opinion on the murder case, but he hadn't.

"Can you disregard your wife's opinion?" the judge asked.

The man chuckled and said yes. Stewart asked him to return for the final round of jury selection.

On Monday, Stewart will whittle down those who say they can view the case with a clear and unbiased mind to a panel of 12 jurors and two alternates. Attorneys expect opening arguments in the case to begin Tuesday. * * *

The case marks the first murder trial Ted Adams will tackle as Brown County prosecutor. Attorneys say the trial likely will be expensive and could cause a backlog of other cases. It’s a disruptive and time-consuming experience for the three prosecutors who work in the office; two are handling the trial, and the third is addressing everything else.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 1, 2016 10:42 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts