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Crime scene technician questioned at McCowan trial

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By KEVIN NEVERS

In a wide-ranging cross-examination on Friday of a PCSP crime scene technician, Dustin McCowan’s defense probed the tech’s impressions and observations during his involvement in the investigation.

Among other things, Officer Roger Bowles was unable to agree with defense attorney Nick Barnes that what Barnes called a “thin line of bruising” around Amanda Bach’s knees necessarily was or looked like a ligature mark.

Bowles also testified that, 48 hours after Bach went missing, he saw no evidence of a cleanup at the McCowan residence but did see alcoholic beverage containers in McCowan’s bedroom.

Much of the cross-examination Barnes devoted to higher-paygrade issues, namely, which sites or items Bowles was instructed to process or collect during the investigation and which ones he wasn’t.

Bowles took the stand under Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Frost’s direct examination and spoke chiefly about his processing of Bach’s gold 2006 Pontiac G6 and of its flat driver’s side front tire.

Bowles first got to the Pontiac at 11:23 Friday, Sept. 16, by which time it had been towed to the PCSP’s secure evidence garage. On this occasion Bowles was told only to search the car for Bach’s cell phone, which he did not find.

Then, on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 17, Bowles was instructed to process the Pontiac again “in a more thorough fashion.” Bowles described how he photographed the car, dusted parts of it for fingerprints, and then took multiple measurements of the position of the driver’s seat, which he testified—when found—was nearly but not quite all the way pushed back.

On Thursday, Sept. 22, Bowles processed the flat tire. Although he found a Phillip’s head screw embedded in it—at a slight angle near the tread line—the deflation itself Bowles attributed to a “cut,” around three-quarters of an inch in width, on the tire’s sidewall. Under 90 pounds of continuous air pressure, he was only able to re-inflate the tire to 34 pounds of pressure.

Bowles testified that he reached three conclusions about the tire: first, that it had been driven “a very minimal distance while deflated”; second, that air escaped through the cut in the opposite direction of the tire’s forward rotation; and third, that he never observed an air leak through the Phillip’s head screw.

Later in the day, jurors submitted to Porter Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa a number of their own questions for Bowles.

• Could a piece of scrap steel have sliced the sidewall and caused it to leak? “Sure,” Bowles said.

• Could a person drive a vehicle off C.R. 625W and eastbound along the Canadian National right-of-way to the point at which Bach’s body was found south of the tracks? “Not in a regular vehicle,” Bowles said.

• Did you secure a fingerprint from the driver’s seat adjustment lever in Bach’s Pontiac? Bowles said that he did not print the lever at all but rather took DNA swabs from it, since the lever was very small and dusting it for prints would have made it impossible to swab for DNA.

Bowles Cross-Examined

Barnes opened his cross-examination of Bowles by directing his attention to the Phillip’s head screw. It “seems pretty beaten up,” Barnes suggested.

Bowles suggested in turn that he saw no great wear on it and that the screw may not have been driven on for any great distance. He also testified, when queried by Barnes, that he saw no indication that it had actually been screwed into the tire.

What shape is that cut in the sidewall, Barnes asked next. “Like a lightning bolt?”

Bowles agreed that it looks, when the tire is deflated, something like a lightning bolt but added that, under full inflation, the cut tends to straighten.

Do you know of any knife shapes like lightning bolts? Barnes asked.

“Not normally,” Bowles said.

Did you find any lightning-bolt shaped knives in the McCowan residence? Barnes asked.

Bowles said that he didn’t.

Barnes then abruptly shifted gears, turning first to the site where Bach’s body was found and then to her autopsy.

How tall was the wire fence on whose far side Bach had been left? Barnes asked.

Three to four feet in height, Bowles estimated.

So Bach’s body was probably thrown or dropped over the fence? Barnes asked.

It would depend on which direction the person who brought her there had taken, Bowles replied.

But if taken from the Canadian National right-of-way? Barnes pressed.

Then yes, she was probably thrown or dropped over the fence, Bowles said.

Should Bach’s hands have been bagged prior to her removal from the site where her body was found? Barnes asked.

“I’m not sure we didn’t,” Bowles said.

If PCSP Det. Com. Jeff Biggs had told you not to bag them, “that would be odd?” Barnes persisted.

“That would be odd,” Bowles testified.

Should the site where Bach’s body was found have been secured until the completion of the autopsy, on Monday, Sept. 19? Barnes asked

“Once I left the scene I don’t know what happened there,” Bowles replied.

But if it hadn’t been secured, should it have been? Barnes asked again.

“Not necessarily,” Bowles stated.

Is it true that “you didn’t know the cause of death at that point?” Barnes asked.

Either a gunshot or knife wound, Bowles replied.

So far as anyone knew on Saturday, Sept. 17, the wound to Bach’s throat could have been a puncture? Barnes continued.

It could have been, Bowles said.

Barnes also asked Bowles—who attended Bach’s autopsy, accompanied by PCSP Det. Sgt. William Young—whether the forensic pathologist ever determined the time of Bach’s death.

“He didn’t tell me,” Bowles said.

There were fly eggs in Bach’s hair, Barnes said. Why weren’t they collected at the autopsy?

Bowles said that he would feel more comfortable if Barnes asked Det. Young that question.

Barnes did ask Bowles whether he had noticed the “apparent ligature marks on (Bach’s) knees,” the “thin bruising around each of her legs.”

Bowles did recall noticing the marks but would not hazard an opinion on what caused them. “I’m not sure they were made by a ligature.”

Barnes next asked Bowles to recall the early morning hours of Sunday, Sept. 18, when he was instructed to process the McCowan residence. Queried by Barnes, Bowles testified to the following:

• Bowles saw no sign of “cleanup” in the house but did see the normal range of detergents and other products in the laundry room.

• Bowles was never told to search drains or traps for blood or other evidence.

• Bowles saw “alcohol bottles, maybe some cans,” in Dustin McCowan’s bedroom.

”You don’t think the inside of the residence was a crime scene, do you?” Barnes put it flatly to Bowles.

“I wouldn’t know for sure,” Bowles replied.

Bowles also said, when asked by Barnes, that he was instructed to process the squad car used by Dustin McCowan’s father, Elliott McCowan, but found nothing of evidentiary value in or on it. Bowles did remark in his original report that the squad car appeared to have been “freshly cleaned” but, after Barnes had showed him a photograph taken of the vehicle at the time, Bowles testified that he did see what “look like handprints in dust” on the squad car’s exterior.

Finally, Barnes asked Bowles whether he was ever told to conduct any gunshot residue testing at all; to collect DNA samples from any persons other than Dustin McCowan; to determine whether any persons involved in the investigation owned or had access to firearms; or to collect soil samples from the site where Bach’s body was found. All of those questions Bowles answered in the negative.

The Orange Shirt

Earlier on Friday, PCSP Officer Darrell Hobgood discussed his collection, on Monday, Sept. 19, of the orange long-sleeved shirt—not a hoody, as defense attorney John Vouga described it in his opening statement—found west of the C.R. 625W grade-crossing and south of the Canadian National right-of-way.

Under direct examination by Frost, Hobgood testified that the shirt was recovered 342 feet west of the grade-crossing and 26 feet south of the tracks, that it was first seen “surrounded by tall grass and weeds,” and that by walking southbound from the shirt and up an embankment a person would reach a spot from which the McCowen residence is visible.

Vouga, in his cross examination, asked Hobgood the following: whether he was aware that Bach’s blood and DNA had been found on the shirt but that McCowan has been excluded as a contributor of “anything” on it; that dog hair had also been found on the shirt; and that there had been a vigil in the area on Sunday, Sept. 18, the previous day.

Hobgood answered that he was aware of none of those things. “I was never told anything official about that shirt,” he said.

Given the number of people searching for Bach on Saturday, Sept. 17, “don’t you find it odd” that the shirt was actually located on Monday, Sept. 19? Vouga asked.

“I don’t know how many people were searching or where,” Hobgood replied.

Posted 2/11/2013