Jury selection begins for McCowan murder trial
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent February 4, 2013 5:46PM
Provided mug shot of Dustin McCowan who is being held in the Porter County Jail on suspicion of murder. McCowan was brought back from Bloomington, IN., to face charges in the disapearance and murder of Amanda Bach whose body was found Saturday aftenoon near railroad tracks just south of the town of Wheeler. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 4, 2013 8:56PM
VALPARAISO — There is no cause to move the murder trial of Dustin McCowan, 20, of Union Township, from the county or to get an out-of-county jury, despite weekend coverage of it, the trial judge ruled Monday.
Porter County Superior Court Judge William Alexa made that ruling before jury selection began.
McCowan is being tried for the murder of 19-year-old Amanda Bach in September 2011, and the trial is supposed to last for what Alexa said was two to four weeks, although the prosecution said it would be more likely four weeks.
Defense attorney John Vouga had argued before jury selection that a Sunday article in a local paper that included a timeline of the investigation and a picture of McCowan in an orange prison uniform was unduly prejudicial.
It was a renewal of an argument he made Aug. 16.
“Any jury pool here in Porter County is hopelessly tainted, especially if they read this article,” Vouga said.
Alexa said there’d already been discussion among him, his staff and officials because of the article and about the intent of the Constitution.
In those days, towns were small and far from each other, so people knew who was on trial.
He also noted that local and Chicago media reached Lake, LaPorte, Newton and Jasper counties.
“It says they’re entitled to a fair and impartial jury,” not one that hadn’t heard of the matter, Alexa said.
Alexa repeated that later to prospective jurors, and a show of hands revealed about 13 hadn’t heard of the case.
Vouga also argued that the inclusion of four Porter County Sheriff’s Department deputies in the courtroom beyond the usual jail deputy and court security is also prejudicial, but Alexa took exception to that argument.
The extra security is there because of the two families “who come here and are battling verbally,” Alexa said.
Only jurors and media were allowed in the courtroom during jury selection, which is expected to continue Tuesday.
At 4 p.m., the court had seven jurors chosen out of the 61 candidates and had 45 more to go.
Alexa wants four alternates to the 12 jurors because of the trial’s length.
Although Alexa ruled for the standard separation of witnesses — people testifying in the case cannot be in the courtroom or listening to the trial — both the prosecution and the defense have agreed to allow the parents of McCowan and Bach to remain inside the courtroom.
The parents of either could be called to testify.
Nick Barnes, the second defense attorney, said during jury selection that both sides agree Bach was murdered, but the defense states McCowan is unfairly accused.
Bach was at McCowan’s home Sept. 15, 2011, but had told friends she was going bowling.
The next morning, Porter County Sheriff’s Police began investigating after someone found the car Bach drove abandoned at the general store on Indiana 130 in Wheeler.
The driver’s seat was pushed back too far for Bach to have been driving, and a nail found in the vehicle’s flat tire was a new one, one that had never been used or hammered, police tests showed.
Search teams found her body on Sept. 17 near railroad tracks. She had been shot through the throat.