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Defense puts own entomology expert on the stand

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

According to testimony given by a “world-renowned” forensic entomologist, it is likely that the body of Amanda Bach had been placed where it was found less than 24 hours before.

Dr. Neal Haskell, a professor of entomology from St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, was called in to testify on Friday by Dustin McCowan’s defense attorneys Nick Barnes and John Vouga. The prosecution has not finished calling its witnesses but agreed to allow Haskell to testify since he would not be available next week.

Haskell said he has consulted in many death cases and has testified in at least 125 other cases in 29 states, including the recent high-profile case State of Florida v. Casey Anthony.

Haskell said he has given a few lectures on forensic entomology topics to the Porter County Sheriff’s Police and that if police had collected the blowfly eggs from Bach’s body, it would have been easier to establish a time of death and how the body was moved.

“That is a major, major omission of evidence,” he said, to the point where he decided to waive his usual consulting fee to testify on behalf of the defendant.

Barnes asked Haskell if he had formed an opinion on the case. Haskell said he hadn’t due to lack of evidence but gave his assumptions based on the police reports, photographs, videos, and chronological data given to him.

Photographs taken in the autopsy which were shown earlier this week to jurors depicted masses of blowfly eggs in Bach’s hair on the left side of her head, under her left ear and near her left nostril, but no larvae.

Haskell said there are three main things that forensic entomologists look for in a death case – the species type, the progression of life stages, and air temperatures that drive growth and development.

Blowflies require a certain number of “accumulated-degree hours,” or ADHs, to go from the egg stage to the larvae stage, Haskell said. He said that 50 degrees Fahrenheit is about the threshold ADHs for development to occur.

Starting with Friday, Sept. 16, the day Bach was supposedly killed, Haskell said blowflies would start laying their eggs. With weather records the defense tallied the number of ADHs before the autopsy on Monday, Sept. 19. at 2 p.m. central time. Haskell said there were no ADHs in the morning hours between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17, and the time when Bach’s body was placed in the cooler of the morgue at Porter Hospital Valparaiso Campus at approximately 7 p.m. that day.

Haskell calculated that at the time of Bach’s autopsy were 179.8 ADHs with a Base of 10 and 337.6 ADHs with a Base of 6, which he said exceeds the minimum amount for maggots to hatch.

Haskell said he believes that it was “most likely” Bach’s body had been moved to its location along the Canadian National Railroad tracks on Sept. 17, before it was discovered at about 3 p.m., or sometime late on Sept. 16.

According to earlier testimony by Jordan Walbright, McCowan had left the area at 2:30 p.m. that Friday for Indiana University in Bloomington where he remained until he was arrested by campus police at about 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and transported back to Porter County.

Haskell’s testimony differs from that of Purdue entomologist Ralph Williams, a former instructor of Haskell’s, who testified on Wednesday that according to his calculations Bach’s body was probably placed near the railroad tracks at least 10:30 or 11 a.m. that Friday.

In cross-examination, Chief Prosecuting Attorney Matt Frost asked Haskell if he agreed with Williams that the body could have been there in the early morning that Friday.

Haskell said “it could have” but he was firm in his opinion the body was placed there that Saturday rather than the day before.

Haskell responded in the negative to Frost’s question that coolness of the cadaver would have slowed larvae development when transported in a body bag from the morgue to the autopsy. He said the eggs would have been receptive to the ambient temperatures rather than body.

Jurors questioned if rain had been a factor. Haskell said from his record sheets it didn’t rain any time on Sept. 16 and 17.

Answering another question, Haskell said he would expect police to make note of maggots if there were any.

“We should have started seeing maggots at that time, but we didn’t,” Haskell said.

Voicemail

Earlier on Friday, Eric Riviera testified Bach had asked him to be her date to her senior prom.

Riviera said he did not accept the date feeling “too old for it” but said he and Bach would text each other regularly and see each other at parties during the summer of 2011.

In direct examination, Riviera said McCowan at one time took Amanda’s cell phone and texted Riviera for about an hour asking if he “wanted to fight.”

Then on the morning of Friday, Sept. 16, Riviera said he found McCowan had left him a voicemail on his cell asking if he had seen Bach because “I know she talks to you and stuff.” McCowan in audio of the voicemail, which was played on CD for the jury, told Riviera that Bach went missing around 2 a.m. and her car was found with the door open and the tire flattened.

Riviera said he didn’t call back McCowan but tried Bach’s phone. He said he didn’t search for her because “ironically” just like McCowan he too was headed to I.U. that day with friends.

Barnes in his cross-examination inquired how McCowan had Rivera’s phone number. Riviera said he didn’t know exactly but McCowan could have gotten it from their mutual friend Allison Bolde or from Bach’s phone at an earlier date.

Riviera told Barnes police came to his house after he had left for I.U., looking for him to ask questions, but he didn’t contact them until he got back.

Barnes asked Riviera if police took his fingerprints. He said no but they did ask for his cell phone and it wasn’t until Nov. 8, 2011, that they called him in for questioning.

I.U.

Also testifying was Indiana University student Jessica Guy, a friend of McCowan’s former girlfriend Anna Leahy who previously testified McCowan was trying to meet up with her while at I.U. the weekend of Sept. 16 and 17.

Guy said Leahy called her during a tailgating party that Saturday and said Leahy was “scared on the phone” because McCowan informed her Bach was missing.

Guy said she left the tailgate and went back to her apartment for another party when later McCowan stopped by with another friend. Guy said McCowan was at her apartment for 30 to 45 minutes when he received a call telling him that Bach’s body had been found.

McCowan had “no reaction whatsoever,” Guy said, and sat on the couch with his “head in his hands,” not crying, before another friend arrived to give him a ride.

Vouga asked Guy in cross-examination if she thought McCowan’s reaction to the news was “normal” to which she replied in the negative.

“Did you him expect to be rolling around on the floor, crying?”

“He didn’t do anything at all. He was just sitting there.”

Wal-Mart

Meanwhile, a 20-year-old Portage High School graduate testified he thought he might have seen Bach at Wal-Mart in Portage on Sept. 16 with two other people after she presumably went missing.

David Elliot said he read posts from a friend on Facebook in the afternoon asking if anyone had seen Amanda Bach to call.

Elliot said he later told police he saw a female with her hair in a ponytail in the company of a male who wore a tan hooded sweatshirt and cargo pants and another female wearing a pink sweater vest with jeans, all of whom were in their late teens or early 20s, in the store earlier that day.

He said he didn’t see the full face of the person who he thought was Bach, “just the side.”

Elliot said that he was good friends with Bach in middle school but hadn’t seen her in about five years.

“How certain are you it was Amanda?” asked Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Cheryl Polarek.

To which Elliot replied “40 percent it was and 60 percent it wasn’t.”

In cross-examination, Vouga asked if police ever called him to look at video surveillance footage of the person he thought was Amanda. Elliot said they didn’t.

No trial today

Porter County Superior Court Judge William Alexa announced the courthouse would be closed on Monday in observation of President’s Day. The trial will resume Tuesday at 9 a.m.

 

 

Posted 2/18/2013