By SUZANNAH COUCH
Brown County Democrat
His cellphone at the feet of a murdered college student. Her blood and hair in his vehicle.
Her DNA on his clothing. A garbage bag of bloodied clothes in his hands at the time of his arrest; a bloodstained Indiana University sweatshirt in the back of his SUV.
All pointed to the guilt of Daniel Messel in the death of 22-year-old IU student Hannah Wilson last April.
And that’s the verdict a Brown County jury reached today after a seven-day trial and four-and-a-half hours of deliberation.
The phone and the DNA were among the pillars of the state’s case.
Wilson’s DNA was found on Messel’s jeans and one shoe. The odds of another DNA profile matching hers was one in 8 trillion, Indiana State Police DNA analyst Michael Raymond testified.
“You know the saying, ‘clothes make the man’? in this case, clothes marked a man,” Deputy Prosecutor James T. Roberts told the jury during closing arguments Aug. 10.
Defense attorney Dorie Maryan’s strategy was to try to poke holes in the Indiana State Police’s investigation.
She asked why — if the state believes Messel hit Wilson four or five times with a blunt object with his right hand — his right shoe and jeans were not confirmed to have Wilson’s blood on them, only the top half of the sweatshirt found in his car.
Prosecutor Ted Adams offered a visual theory in his closing argument. He got down on his knees and acted as if he was hitting someone with an object, and in that position, his body concealed his knees and shoes.
Messel also questioned why “unknown” DNA was found on some of the evidence, including Messel’s jeans, grass at the crime scene and under Wilson’s fingernails, and why police didn’t try to identify whose it was.
She told the jury police weren’t able to test that DNA against other profiles because they had not gathered DNA from other potential suspects, only Messel.
She also brought up the lack of a murder weapon. Witnesses and the state theorized that it could be a flashlight. Police searched the area of Plum Creek Road, Messel’s home and vehicle, but never found any weapon.
She argued that if Messel transported the murder weapon to another location, Wilson’s blood would have been all over his car. But her blood was not discovered on the steering wheel or gear shift.
“The state told you they don’t have to fill in blanks. They’re right. What happened to her on Eighth Street, who she was with is not their burden. My concern is we don’t have answers, so you’ll fill in the blanks,” Maryan told the jury.
“The state has not met the burden (of proof). Too many questions remain.”
Adams said only one sock was in the bag of clothes police seized from Messel the night of his arrest April 24. He wondered aloud if Messel was wearing only one when he showed up on video surveillance at a Bloomington McDonald’s early that morning, and how he might have used the other to conceal potential evidence.
He called Maryan’s arguments “red herrings,” attempting to distract jurors from the facts of the case.
He acknowledged that questions remain, like how, why or when Wilson got into that vehicle, but, “that’s not reasonable doubt,” Adams said.
The “knowns” of the case — her DNA found on the car’s hood, windshield and on Messel’s clothes, and her hair pulled out by the root in his vehicle — should be enough to convict.
“Those are the knowns. Don’t swim in the sea of unknowns,” Adams said.
He held up a photo of handprints in the dust on the passenger side dashboard of the car. Adams argued that the money Messel withdrew from his account and the amount found in his wallet at the time of his arrest showed just enough spent to buy Armor All wipes, which were found in the back of the car.
The cellphone found underneath Wilson’s feet was “the key that unlocked the mystery,” Adams said.
The reason Messel didn’t call in to work April 24, 2015 to let his boss know he would not be there — which is something his boss testified he never did — is because he did not have his phone. It was left at the scene of the crime.
“That poor girl struggled for her life. Thank God that phone fell out,” Adams said.