Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Updated: Dustin McCowan gets 60 years for murder of Amanda Bach

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

One month after one of the longest and most publicized trials ever in Porter County, Superior Court Judge William Alexa sentenced convicted murderer Dustin McCowan to 60 years in the Indiana Department of Corrections.

Afterward, the judge granted McCowan’s request that he be appointed a public defender as he plans to appeal the conviction.

Families of both McCowan and murder victim Amanda Bach sat in Alexa’s courtroom Thursday to hear the judge decide McCowan’s fate on a charge of murder punishable from 45 to 65 years according to Indiana law (55 years is the advisory sentence).

Prior to sentencing, Alexa heard several points made by the state to aggravate the sentence while defense attorneys made their case to mitigate it.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Cheryl Polarek said McCowan knowingly shot “a petite, unarmed girl when she didn’t know it was coming” as one of the reasons to increase the sentence.

Polarek also said that McCowan had a few run-ins with the law prior to when he allegedly shot Bach near his home in Union Twp on Sept. 16, 2011. McCowan was one of 19 involved in an elaborate senior prank at Wheeler High School in December 2010 where extensive damage was done to school property. That action led to no conviction but school officials decided to suspend McCowan.

He was also arrested on a charge of minor consumption and entered into a deferral program which he violated by being charged with another crime, Polarek said. The consumption charge is still pending, she said.

While never formally charged, Polarek said McCowan is a known user of marijuana and would serve alcohol to underage persons during parties he had at his house while his father and step-mother were at work.

She also referred to two incidents of “uncharged conduct” that were never brought up during the trial involving violence towards women, one where he allegedly took someone by the shoulders and shook her and another incident where he is said to have thrown a young woman down a flight of stairs out of anger. She also recalled testimonies given by McCowan’s peers that he had told them he would kill Bach if he found out she was pregnant.

Polarek added that McCowan’s “clear lack of remorse” and his steps to cover up evidence as reasons a stiffer sentence should be given. She pointed to witness testimonies that McCowan left to party at IU in Bloomington on Sept. 16 rather than stay and search for Bach.

Speaking further on McCowan’s character, Polarek did not hold back on censuring him and his family. She said McCowan is the way he is because of the adults in his life who she said are “dishonest, cowardly and frankly pathetic.”

As Polarek continued, one McCowan supporter dashed out of the room slamming the courtroom doors. Alexa warned those present that he realizes the high emotions in the case but any outburst would result in a five-day sentence in Porter County Jail for contempt of court.

Polarek’s description of Bach was a rosy contrast, saying during the pre-trial interviews “not one person said a negative thing about her.”

She commended Bach’s parents for having shown courage in sitting through the trail.

“The fight is almost over but it is just the beginning for them. Now it is the quiet times,” Polarek said.

Defense attorney John Vouga said he had only seen the state’s memorandum for aggravating factors minutes before the sentencing hearing but was prepared to argue each point.

Vouga said according to specific rulings by appellate courts in the state, criminal history cannot be a factor for an aggravated sentence or the character of the defendant. He argued that McCowan has no criminal history due to never being convicted and that the alleged drug use should not have any impact on the sentence.

Vouga also refuted the claim that facts were concealed because none of the witnesses’ testimonies or the evidence presented linked McCowan to the murder.

“I didn’t see that anywhere,” he said.

The reason McCowan showed no remorse, Vouga said, is because he is not guilty and that he was convicted on purely circumstantial evidence.

Vouga said he would “not stoop to the level” of the state by casting aspersions and he informed the courtroom that he and his colleague Nick Barnes were only doing their jobs to defend McCowan to the best of their ability.

“We have no malice. We have nothing but sympathy toward the Bachs,” Vouga said.

His dealings with the McCowans have led him to disagree with the prosecution’s characterization. “They have treated us with dignity and respect. They are good people,” he said.

The pre-sentencing report from the probation department said McCowan is a low-level risk to commit crimes, another factor he urged the court to consider as mitigation. He also asked the judge to consider McCowan’s age at the time, 19.

Bachs speak

Neither the state nor the defense called any witnesses on Thursday but both the victim’s parents, William and Sandra Bach, read to the court their victim impact statements.

William Bach said his whole life has changed since he was awakened by a phone call at 3:45 a.m. on Sept. 16. He said as McCowan took his daughter’s life, he also took “a piece of my heart.”

“I will never be able to see (Amanda’s) children, our grandchildren; the children she will never have,” William Bach said.

He said that Amanda at age 19 was “just starting to get life” and wanted to make a career of helping others.

He said he prays that McCowan will “one day tell the truth and ask forgiveness” as he so far has shown “no mercy for a senseless, horrendous and cowardly act.”

William Bach wished for McCowan to get life in prison with no parole.

Taking a photograph of her daughter to the witness stand, Sandra Bach said “It pains me that I must live every day without Amanda.” She recounted her troubles dealing with grief but also spoke of the pleasant memories she had with her daughter like a time they went to New York and Amanda acted out a scene from one of her favorite movies.

She said Amanda was an “angel on Earth” who saw the good in everyone.

“It was not her time to go. She had so much to share,” said Sandra Bach.

She called McCowan a “selfish, narcissistic, sociopath of a man” who thinks he is “above the law.”

“You ripped my heart out, trampled on it, spit on it, and put it back,” she said close to tears while gazing at McCowan from the stand. “I will not let you get the best of me Dustin. I will not,” she said and repeated multiple times throughout her statements.

She also directed criticisms towards the defense team’s attempt to point the finger at others which was “nailing jell-o to the wall.”

While some would see this as “a crime of passion,” Sandra Bach called it a “long, sick fantasy of Dustin McCowan.”

Dustin’s turn to speak

The judge gave McCowan one last time to make any comments before handing down the sentence.

McCowan, who was wearing an orange PCJ jumpsuit Thursday with a fresh beard, declined to make any statements other than “I don’t think the court deserves it, your honor,” he said.

Vouga after the sentencing said that McCowan meant to be “humble.”

Judge rules

Alexa said he would not consider the defense’s notations of appellate or supreme court decisions, nor would he have any of McCowan’s past brushes with the law or his use of alcohol weigh in on his decision. He said the law holds no limits on what judges can consider for aggravators or mitigators.

“I will rule on what I think is fair based on the facts presented,” Alexa said.

Alexa specifically said that the testimony that recounted McCowan’s habit of “waving a gun around” at parties, his apparent treatment of women, and his decision to leave for Bloomington, showing a lack of remorse would be part of his decision, as well as a recorded phone conversation at the PCJ where an unnamed person told McCowan that the prosecuting attorneys should lose their children “to see what it feels like.”

“I feel like the aggravating circumstances do outweigh the mitigating circumstances,” Alexa said.

Alexa then sentenced McCowan to 60 years with suspension of probation.

Reactions from attorneys

Polarek and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Matt Frost outside the courthouse said they were satisfied with the judge’s sentence. They credited the hard work of the jury who sat through three and a half weeks of testimony.

Both said that they did not feel threatened by the comments in the phone conversation.

Vouga said that due to this being a high-profile case, he and McCowan’s family were expecting the maximum sentence.

Barnes said he commends Alexa for putting a lot of time and thought into the case and was glad that he disregarded the state’s push to consider McCowan’s past actions.

Appeal and good behavior

Alexa told McCowan he has thirty days to file an appeal and he ordered the appointment of a public defender as motioned by Vouga.

Vouga said he will be working to get the public defender ready to file the appeal. He said he hopes the appellate court in Indianapolis can find an unbiased jury with members from outside of Porter County. The appeal process can take a matter of a few months, he said.

Vouga told the Chesterton Tribune this morning that McCowan is to remain at Porter County Jail until the DOC makes an evaluation of which of its facilities he will be incarcerated in.

While McCowan will not be eligible for probation, Vouga said he can get credit for good behavior and entering into various DOC programs.

By doing that, Vouga said McCowan could be released in less than 30 years.

 

Posted 3/28/2013

Updated Posted 3/29/2013