High-profile rape, murder cases bring the work of ISP crime lab into focus

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — From a rape in Bloomington to a murder in Zionsville, in the last two weeks the Indiana State Police crime lab has used DNA evidence to break open several high-profile cases.

This week, leaders at the facility gave a rare look inside the crime lab to explain how their work is impacting public safety.

Convicted killer Daniel Messel and accused killer Damoine Wilcoxson are both facing newly filed felony charges in two cases because of the work being done inside the state crime lab.

According to court records in the Wilcoxson case, investigators found DNA on a note and matched the sample to Wilcoxson whose DNA profile was in a national database because of a previous arrest in Ohio.

In the Messel case, the man convicted of killing IU student Hannah Wilson is now charged with rape from a different case four years ago after DNA found underneath that victims fingernails matched Messel’s.

Both are examples of advances in DNA technology.

“Things have changed over the years. We’ve gotten much more sensitive over the years. We do more touch cases each year than actual body fluid cases anymore,” said Kristine Crouch with the state crime lab biology unit.

In the case against Wilcoxson, the state lab also tested shells recovered from the murder in Zionsville with shells left behind at the two IMPD district headquarters that were shot up and ruled them a match, although experts admit firearms analysis is not a perfect science.

“There is no exact science. There’s always subjectivity in everything we do,” said Mark Keisler with the state crime lab firearms unit.

Following Wilcoxson’s arrest, the Boone County prosecutor called for a change in Indiana law allowing DNA samples to be collected from people arrested for crimes.

Leaders at the crime lab say not waiting until conviction would result in quicker DNA profiles available to law enforcement.

“From the time of arrest in Indiana to conviction there is a gap in time of what we might be able to provide information on,” said state crime lab commander Major Steve Holland.

Still, Holland says more samples collected could require more staffing and that’s a decision for lawmakers.

The state crime lab is a busy place. Right now the lab employees 170 people and assists on more than 18,000 cases a year.  The DNA unit alone has 55 analysts that handles 4,000 requests annually.

The high number of cases worked has resulted in a backlog. The state lab averages about a 50 day turnaround for processing evidence, although officials say that reflects the national average.

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