McCowan guilty: Jurors say he killed ex-girlfriend Amanda Bach
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent February 26, 2013 1:26PM
Dustin McCowan is escorted out of the Porter County Courthouse in Valparaiso after a jury found him guilty in the death of his 19 year-old ex-girlfriend Amanda Bach late Tuesday Feb. 27, 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 27, 2013 12:42AM
VALPARAISO — When the jury read it’s verdict of guilty about 11 p.m. Tuesday, 20-year-old Dustin McCowan held his head down, while relatives of his victim held their linked hands up together.
Bill Bach, the father of the murder victim, 19-year-old daughter Amanda Bach, held up a photo of his daughter as the jury returned its verdict.
Sandra Bach, the victim’s mother, carried the photo over her head as Bach’s family left before the McCowan family, all under the watchful eyes of 12 Porter County Sheriff’s Police Officers, Sheriff David Lain, a Porter County corrections officer and a Porter County Court Security officer.
McCowan himself kept his head down.
His father, Joseph Elliot McCowan, simply said, “I’ve got nothing to say to you.”
McCowan faces 45 to 65 years in prison when Porter Superior Judge William Alexa sentences him at 2 p.m. March 28.
He’s convicted of shooting Bach in the neck early on Sept. 16, 2011, after she visited him at his Union Township home on Sept. 15.
Bach, of Portage, was his ex-girlfriend, and he’d been upset about a pregnancy scare after they broke up, and she had begun dating his best friend.
In a news conference after the verdict, Sandra Bach said of the jury’s decision, “It doesn’t bring her back, but it is justice.”
Bill Bach said the jury asked a lot of insightful questions that the prosecution couldn’t — 95 by Alexa’s count — and that helped.
“We never lost faith in them,” he said.
Bill and Sandra Bach, who sat through the entire trial, said they kept strength in the face of brutal photos and evidence by keeping their daughter in mind.
“She was brutally murdered,” Bill Bach said.
“By a coward,” Sandra Bach finished.
They both said they hope McCowan gets the maximum sentence allowed by law.
Defense attorneys John Vouga and Nick Barnes plan to appeal.
“We will continue to fight for Dustin McCowan as long as we can,” said Barnes, who was shocked by the jury’s decision.
Vouga said, “I’m not sure how many grounds there are for correction of errors, but they’re numerous.”
The defense attorneys tried to get the trial moved out of county or get a jury from outside Porter County due to publicity.
“The length of deliberation showed they thought about this. We knew we had an uphill battle with a Porter County jury,” Vouga said.
Barnes said, “We’re obviously very disappointed with the verdict. We don’t think the prosecution was able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The prosecution built its case on circumstantial evidence, Barnes said in his closing arguments Tuesday.
“They don’t know where Amanda was killed,” he told the jury.
Although the prosecution showed Bach was killed with a .38 caliber bullet, they never found the gun.
McCowan’s father had a .38 Smith and Wesson he kept under the couch, and it turned up missing sometime between the Monday before the shooting and Sept. 19, 2011.
Barnes said the investigators and prosecution wouldn’t have known about the missing gun if Elliot McCowan hadn’t told them about it, and the prosecution never investigated the 14 people who had access to it.
Deputy Prosecutor Cheryl Polarek, in her closing arguments to the jury, said McCowan’s father and stepmother told police about the missing gun only while they were in the Porter County Sheriff’s Department being questioned.
Both sides agreed that McCowan was the last to see Bach, who visited his home.
McCowan told police she was there from 11 p.m. Sept. 15 to 1:30 a.m. Sept. 16, and a neighbor, Linda Phillips, said she heard voices outside her window for about 20 minutes after 1 a.m.
She said she heard a gentle male voice repeating, “Amanda, get up,” and a female stating, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
When Bach’s father knocked on doors for information, Phillips asked if her name was “Amanda,” and the father went white, Polarek said.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Matt Frost said, “You can’t hallucinate the name of a girl in your head.”
Cell phone records became a point of contention.
The prosecution said records showed McCowan to the north, in Wheeler, where police found Bach’s abandoned car early Sept. 16, while the defense’s expert said phone plots on a map triangulated on the McCowan household.
The defense also argued through the trial that the prosecution lacked any DNA, fingerprint or hair evidence that directly connected McCowan to Bach’s body.
Frost said that even when scientists tested the DNA off McCowan’s shirt and cellphone, they could only state “he is a potential major contributor.”
“Real life is not like a ‘C.S.I.’ program,” Frost said. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
Another continuing defense point was that the prosecution did not collect DNA or fingerprints from other possible suspects, even to exclude possible suspects.
Polarek said McCowan was the only likely suspect, but the defense in the first week of the trial tried to cast doubt on the Wheeler man who found Bach’s body off the Canadian National tracks, 300 feet from McCowan’s home.
“The case for Nick Prochno murdering Amanda Bach is stronger than the one for Dustin McCowan,” Barnes said in his closing arguments.
Barnes referred to witnesses — including McCowan’s mother, Jamie Tome — who saw an SUV with round lights similar to Prochno’s Nissan Xterra in various places, including near the tracks where Bachs’ body was found.
He also said Prochno led police away from a vacant house and to the body where no one else was looking, and it took 10 minutes.
However, Frost said the prosecution could accuse Prochno — whose fiancée suggested he help out — without evidence, and it was “character assassination, innuendo and, frankly, bullcrap.”
The prosecution checked his alibi, the police were done searching and officers were walking along the tracks with him and suggested he check the path that led to Bach, Frost said.