The state’s case against Dustin McCowan not only lacks any physical evidence
linking him to Amanda Bach’s murder but is based on the “shoddy” police work
of investigators who assumed almost from the get-go that McCowan was their
man. So defense attorney John Vouga told the jury on Tuesday in his opening
statement, the first time the defense has publicly confronted the state’s
case as it originally appeared in the charging document of Sept. 19, 2011,
and was later elaborated, somewhat, at McCowan’s bond hearing two months
later, on Nov. 16, 2011.
Vouga urged jurors, during the trial, to “listen for the sounds of real
concrete evidence,” then assured them that “you will not hear any.”
Porter County Chief Prosecuting Attorney Matt Frost, on the contrary, told
jurors that the physical evidence will link McCowan to Bach’s murder; that
eye- and ear-witness testimony will do the same; that cell phone locates
will put McCowan at or near Bach’s abandoned Pontiac shortly after he told
police that she left his home in the early morning hours of Sept. 16; and
that McCowan’s own demeanor and actions in the hours after Bach went missing
tend to cast suspicion on him.
Frost began the first formal session of the trial with the state’s opening
statement, consisting essentially of a timeline constructed by the Porter
County Sheriff’s Police and supplemented by photographs: of ariel views of
the site where Bach’s body was found, in a tree line south of the Canadian
National’s right of way and approximately 300 yards from McCowan’s home on
C.R. 625W in Union Township; of two brief views of Bach’s body at autopsy;
of the “stab” cut which an FBI analyst said caused the flat on the driver’s
side front tire of Bach’s Pontiac; and of the bullet recovered from her
Frost promised the jurors they would hear the following testimony:
• That of Linda Phillips, who resides one house to the north of the McCowan
residence and who told investigators that, on the night in question, she
heard a male voice saying “Amanda, get up, come on, get up, Amanda, get up,”
and a female voice saying “I can’t believe this is happening.”
• That of a neighbor two houses to the south, who reported hearing “what she
thinks were gun shots.”
• That of a man who, while driving to work northbound on C.R. 650W—the
likely route to Dean’s General Store on Ind. 130, where Bach’s Pontiac was
found abandoned a short time later—saw a Justin Timberlake lookalike and
subsequently identified that subject as McCowan.
• That of the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Bach and
will testify that she died of a bullet fired at her throat from close range
and that “abraded excoriations” on her back were caused by the dragging of
her body after death to the disposal site “like a backwards wheelbarrow.”
The state will also introduce the following pieces of evidence, Frost told
• Two flip-flops, identified as Bach’s, found in two separate locations
between McCowan’s home and the site where her body was later found.
• An orange “long-sleeved shirt,” found along the Canadian National
right-of-way, from which Bach’s DNA was later recovered. “The evidence will
show that Dustin McCowan was a fan of orange tee-shirts,” Frost said.
• A medium-caliber hollow-point bullet recovered from Bach’s body, which
Frost said shares the same characteristics as ammunition which McCowan’s
father, Elliott McCowan, had previously purchased along with a .38 Special
revolver. Elliott McCowan reported that handgun missing from where he
customarily kept it, beneath the sofa in the living room, after
investigators conducted a search of the McCowan home.
Finally, Frost told jurors that McCowan himself made odd statements or acted
oddly in the hours after Bach was found to have gone missing:
• When first informed by a PCSP that Bach’s abandoned car had just been
found, McCowan told the officer that he hadn’t been able to contact her by
cell. But phone records show that McCowan only made two attempts to call her
and that both—within a minute of each other—were made after speaking with
the officer, Frost said.
• When McCowan and Allison Bolde, a mutual friend of both his and Bach’s,
went to visit another friend’s home around 5:45 a.m. Sept. 16, the friend’s
mother remembered McCowan’s saying “She could be dead,” just before he went
to the lavatory to vomit, Frost said.
• Later in the morning, McCowan told Bolde—before he left on his previously
planned trip to Bloomington—“This is going to ruin my time at IU and I’m
going to party in her honor.”
Vouga began his statement by telling jurors that the state will be telling
them a “story.”
“Do not,” he said, “let the prosecutors complicate it with smokescreens.
It’s their story but it’s only a story. They want you to believe it. They
need you to believe it. Your job as jurors is to hold them to that story.”
Vouga’s chief theme: that PCSP investigators never looked further afield for
a suspect than McCowan, that only three hours after Bach’s body was found he
was taken into custody by Bloomington law enforcement and only 48 hours
later formally charged, and that their investigation “involved gross
“Most of the investigation took place in the days and weeks and even months
after he was charged and that investigation was obligatory and shoddy
because Dustin was their man,” Vouga said.
At McCowan’s bond hearing in November 2011, Vouga noted, prosecutors
indicated that more than 90 pieces of evidence had been collected and sent
to the FBI for analysis. But on none of that evidence—but for his own cell
phone—were found traces of McCowan’s DNA or his fingerprints or otherwise
hairs or fibers linking him to the murder, he said.
Vouga added that investigators did not, even for “exclusionary purposes,”
pursue the collection of DNA samples from any other persons—“suspects,” was
his word, including four registered sex offenders who he said live in the
Of the orange shirt mentioned by Frost, Vouga said this: that the shirt was
actually a hoody, that it did have Bach’s blood on it but no DNA belonging
to McCowan, that it had dog hair on it but not hair from McCowan’s dog, and
that a lot of people in Wheeler wear orange inasmuch as orange is the
Wheeler High School’s school color.
Of the cell phone evidence, Vouga said this: that it’s “entirely unreliable”
and that the state’s own witness will indicate that it puts McCowan at
different places “at the exact same time” and puts him, within minutes, at
widely separated places between which he could not have traveled in that
Testimony will also show the following, Vouga said:
• That, according to a forensic entomologist, insect activity on Bach’s body
when found indicates that she “couldn’t have been in that location as long
as the state said she was,” casting doubt on the presumed time of death and
narrowing the window in which McCowan could possibly have committed the
• That the PCSP had two reports of a vehicle—one describing it as dark
colored, another as silver—parked next to Bach’s abandoned Pontiac prior to
its being discovered by the owner of Dean’s General Store at 3:23 a.m. Sept.
16. No vehicle was parked next to the Pontiac when it was found, Vouga said.
• That, when discovered on Sept. 17, Bach was not wearing the same clothing
which her father said she had left home in, around 10 p.m. Sept. 15.
Instead, she was wearing five shirts. “Who dresses in five shirts?” Vouga
asked. “Who changed her? Where and when?”
• That investigators have never actually identified the crime scene. “It
sounds like the murder happened right outside” the McCowan home, Vouga said.
“And that property was searched.” But at the bond hearing in November 2011,
PCSP Det. Com. Jeff Biggs testified, under cross-examination, that
investigators still did not know where Bach had been murdered, Vouga
• And that the testimony of the man who reportedly saw McCowan walking along
C.R. 650W is dubious, inasmuch as he estimated the subject’s height at 5’
6’’ while McCowan actually stands 6’ 3’’and did not identify that subject as
McCowan until after he had seen McCowan’s photo in the newspapers.
“Do not make the parents’ tragedy of losing a child even worse by convicting
an innocent man,” Vouga concluded.