Cumberland murder suspects in court

The charging information says Bell needed money for a tattoo.
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The two men accused of killing a Cumberland girl and her uncle could spend the rest of their lives in prison. Just ten days after the shocking crime, the prosecutor filed murder and other charges against the pair.

Michael Bell, 22, and Jeremy Priel, 25, left court knowing they may never be free again. If convicted, both young men could be sentenced to well over a hundred years in prison. They are charged with murdering 21-year-old Jeremy Crane and his seven-year-old niece Kyleigh as well as robbery and handgun violations.

The victim's family, who have spoken frequently of the crimes, left the hearing quickly and quietly. Bell was a close and trusted friend who lived with the Crane family at one point. It was the first time they'd seen him since the murders.

Deputy prosecutor Denise Robinson spoke for them.

"It is a trying time. They just buried their family members and now they are starting the court process which is overwhelming for anyone who's so involved with it, so they prefer to keep to themselves today," said Robinson.

The judge entered not guilty pleas and appointed public defenders to represent Ball and Priel. The conflicting statements both men gave police implicate each other for the murders.

"He's not a murderer," said Trisha Dunlap.

Dunlap says she's been friends with Michael Bell since the fifth grade. "It doesn't make any sense at all, why anybody would do anything like this. I still think he's innocent," she said.

Prosecutors say police collected a substantial amount of physical evidence, as well as witnesses statements. However, it is not clear which man actually fired the shots that killed the victims.

"It is not required to prove who pulled the trigger. Under Indiana law, both are equally culpable," said Robinson.

Still, at least one legal expert thinks not knowing who pulled the trigger could raise doubts among jurors and make the case more difficult to prove.

"It is not going to be a slam dunk, the same way when there is one person," said Joel Schumm, an Indiana University clinical professor of law.

Schumm says not knowing who fired the shots complicates the case.

"When the standard is beyond reasonable doubt and if you have lawyers vigorously contesting the evidence, it makes it a little more difficult than if you just have one person," he said.

The judge scheduled the trial to begin in late February. Given the seriousness and complexity of the crimes, it's likely that trial date will be pushed back.

Case background

Police say it was Bell's desire for a tattoo that led to a plan to steal video games from Jeremy Crane. It was a plan that ultimately led to the murders of Crane and his seven-year-old niece Kyleigh.

Bell told police he took Priel to Jeremy Crane's house. According to Bell, their plan was for Bell to go inside. Then Priel would come in and rob everyone.

Bell says once inside he went to the bathroom and he came out to see Priel shoot Jeremy Crane twice. Bell told police he grabbed the video games and ran outside and then heard another gunshot.

According to court documents, Bell wanted to steal the video games so Priel would do tattoo work for him. Bell's account differs from Priel's, who says he never went inside the Crane house.

Investigators say right now they don't know who pulled the trigger.

Jeremy Crane's girlfriend doesn't care who did. She says both are responsible.  The last time she heard from her boyfriend was via text.

"He was texting me right before. I thought he fell asleep. But when he didn't show to pick me up for school I knew something was wrong. I didn't know what, but I knew [it was] something," said Angel Dick. "But if you were there and you didn't stop it, you are just as guilty. I mean a seven-year-old who I'm sure had to be crying."

The probable cause affidavit says the Xbox and PlayStation Bell and Priel allegedly took were ultimately sold for $40 and an ounce of marijuana.