McCowan defense team tries to pin Bach murder on one of the searchers
By James D. WOlf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent February 6, 2013 1:02PM
Nicholas Prochno (left) is cross-examined by defense attorney Nick Barnes on Wednesday, February, 6, 2013, in the jury trial of Dustin McCowan. | Don Colley~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 7:38AM
VALPARAISO — The defense in the Dustin McCowan murder trial offered up an alternate suspect in the murder of 19-year-old Amanda Bach — one of the prosecution’s witnesses and the man who found her body.
However, the aggressive pursuit during Wednesday afternoon’s questioning earned defense attorney Nick Barnes multiple admonishments from Porter County Superior Court Judge William Alexa.
And Valparaiso Police Department Detective David Castellanos later disagreed on the stand with the defense’s contention that Nicholas Prochno, 30, of Wheeler, led police away from investigating abandoned houses and directly to the body.
Prochno suggested that police officers look around the railroad tracks where his fiancée had seen young people congregate.
Prochno said that on Sept. 17, he approached Valparaiso police officers who were searching in Wheeler and mentioned that his fiancée and he had talked about the area and thought police should know.
“I thought it was valuable. They reacted like it was,” Prochno said.
While looking with police, Prochno followed a path of trampled plants into bushes and found Bach.
Barnes focused on Prochno finding the body within 5 minutes of beginning the search when hundreds of others were searching for 34 hours.
Confirming that Prochno felt panicked, Barnes said, “I can see why,” leading to his first judicial rebuke.
Alexa said, “That is totally inappropriate, and refrain from putting your opinion into anything.”
Barnes also brought up Prochno’s police interview, where he said he always wanted to be a police officer and told police County Road 625W had no spot to abduct someone due to lack of stop signs or traffic lights, except where the trains sometimes stall.
Prochno said he thought Bach went missing before her car reached the corner of County Road 625W and Indiana 130, where it was found with a flat tire, because she didn’t immediately call her boyfriend or father when her car broke down.
Barnes said he found nothing in newspapers or on Facebook that she didn’t call, so he asked how Prochno could have known.
“Isn’t it true that you know because you were there when she was abducted?” Barnes said. “Then on (Sept. 17) when police were getting close to finding your hiding spot, you led them to the body.”
An abandoned house was next to Prochno’s home, Barnes said.
Prochno said under cross-examination that police never collected his DNA or fingerprints even to rule him out and never checked his cell phone or calling records.
Castellanos took the stand after Prochno and said police were already done investigating a suspicious house when Prochno approached them. He said they decided to follow the possible lead because they had nothing else to do.
He said others who joined in the search had also talked with police officers. Prochno didn’t lead them to the body, rather Castellano said he told Prochno to follow the path.
Although Prochno seemed scared when he found the body, Castellano said he didn’t find the man’s behavior odd.
Under cross-examination, Castellano said he and other Valparaiso officers didn’t check inside abandoned houses.
Other testimony included McCowan neighbor Linda Phillips, who said she heard 20 minutes of a male voice saying “Amanda, get up” outside her bedroom window and the female once saying “I don’t believe this is happening.”
“He wasn’t yelling at her. He was gentle. It was a gentle voice,” Phillips said.
However, the female sounded stressed, the witness said.
Neighbor Michele Albright testified she heard three gunshots after midnight, although under cross-examination she couldn’t pinpoint the exact time.
Bach’s mother, Sandra Bach, was the first witness of the day and spoke about having talks with Amanda about her relationship with McCowan, which officially ended around July-August of 2011.
“I used the words ‘he’s a psycho or bi-polar. You don’t need that in your life,’ ” Sandra Bach said.
In answer to a juror’s submitted question, Sandra Bach said, “I wasn’t aware of any physical type of abuse, but verbal, yes.”
Under cross-examination, she said that they bickered often.