The Indiana Court of Appeals declined to revise the 80-year sentence handed down by a Brown County judge for the murder of an Indiana University student two years ago.
Daniel E. Messel was convicted of murdering Hannah Wilson in April 2015. Wilson had just finished final exams for her undergraduate degree when she went out celebrating with friends. Her friends decided she was too intoxicated to go to the bar and put her in a taxi to go home. Surveillance video showed Messel’s car followed the taxi.
Wilson’s body was found the next day in a parking lot in Brown County. An autopsy showed she had died after being struck multiple times with a blunt object in the head. Messel’s cell phone was found at the scene. He was later arrested while carrying a garbage bag with clothing that contained Wilson’s DNA. Her hair, blood and DNA were found on the inside and outside of Messel’s car.
Evidence at Messel’s trial was introduced to show he once owned a mag flashlight, although no murder weapon had been identified. It was allowed into evidence over Messel’s objection. He was convicted in August 2016 and sentenced to 60 years on the murder conviction and 20 years for being a habitual offender.
The Court of Appeals in its opinion assumed for argument’s sake that the admission of the flashlight evidence was erroneous. But Judge John Baker noted all of the independent evidence of Messel’s guilt, including his cell phone in the parking lot and surveillance video of his vehicle.
“Given this overwhelming independent evidence of Messel’s guilty, we find there is no substantial likelihood that the evidence related to his past ownership of a mag light contributed to the conviction,” Baker wrote. “In other words, any error was harmless.”
The judges upheld the aggregate 80-year sentence, noting how Messel preyed upon an intoxicated young woman, bludgeoned her to death, and then “dumped her body as if it were a piece of trash in a vacant lot alongside a road in rural Brown County. … Nothing about the appalling nature of this offense renders his sentence inappropriate,” Baker wrote in Daniel E. Messel v. State of Indiana, 07A01-1610-CR-2425.