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Crime scene investigator: No trace evidence links McCowan to the murder

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A certified crime scene investigator with the Porter County Sheriff’s Police gave testimony Monday that the investigation into the murder of Amanda Bach has not linked DNA, or any trace evidence, to defendant Dustin McCowan of Union Township.

Det. Lt. William Young also said that police have not considered anyone else to be a suspect in the case, nor has the murder weapon ever been found.

Young, who has been with the PCSP for 17 years, was the only witness called at the start of the trial’s second week. In direct examination, Chief Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Frost asked Young to talk about several photographs taken of Bach’s body as it was found on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in tall weeds near a wire fence line along the Canadian National Railroad right-of-way in proximity to C.R. 625W and 350N.

Young said he arrived shortly after the body was found at 3:49 p.m. to assist PCSP Det. Com. Jeff Biggs and crime scene technician Officer Roger Bowles by placing and sealing pieces of evidence in brown paper bags.

Photographs depicted Bach’s body, nearly naked, with her right side wedged up against a tree. Several shirts and her bra were around her arms. Another photograph of Bach’s head showed blood around her face with clusters of fly eggs in her hair and near her left nostril.

Young testified he was present for the three to four hour autopsy examination in Indianapolis. The body was transferred from the Porter Hospital Valparaiso Campus morgue because the local pathologist was unavailable, he said.

Swabs were taken for DNA evidence around Bach’s breasts, mouth, thighs, knees, vaginal area, and fingernails. A “mushroomed” bullet was also recovered in the left back side of Bach’s neck, Young said.

Autopsy photos show more fly eggs described by Young as a having a “parmesan cheese” texture in Bach’s hair on the left side and under her left ear indicating she had been dragged along the ground.

“Did you collect the fly eggs at the autopsy?” Frost asked.

Young said he did not under the advice of a forensic etymologist.

As for the bullet, the tip peeled back against the stem on impact causing the mushroom-like appearance, Young said. The state next presented photographs of the Federal .38 Special bullet cartridges that were recovered from Elliot McCowan, the defendant’s father.

The bullet that killed Amanda Bach could have come from at least ten different guns, Young said.

Young said the autopsy showed Bach was wearing five kinds of shirts or tops at the time of her death – a maroon tank top, a pink camisole, a white polka-dot tank, another white tank, and a black-and-gray long sleeve shirt – many of which Young pointed out had holes and stains on them as her body had been dragged.

The bullets and shirts were sent to the FBI for further analysis, Young said.

The orange shirt

As Young examined Bach’s clothing items that were added into the record, Frost had Young look at the “orange long-sleeved shirt” that was found west of the C.R. 625W grade-crossing two days after the body was found.

“Have you seen any other shirts like that?” said Frost.

“Yes,” replied Young, who said he had seen a seen another orange shirt that was in McCowan’s possession when he was booked into Porter County Jail and noted similarities in the stitching and thickness.

Later in cross-examination, Young would say that Bach’s DNA was found on the shirt discovered by the railroad tracks. He also said that the shirt McCowan was wearing at PCJ processed by the FBI would reveal it had none of Bach’s DNA.

Abandoned house

Frost asked Young if he could identify the address of an “abandoned” ranch-style house west of C.R. 625W which was documented in photographs. Photos were taken through the window showing a large blue mattress propped against a wall inside.

Young said he knew the house and the address 633 West C.R. 350 North. Defense attorney Nick Barnes objected, saying the photos had no relevance, but Frost assured Porter County Superior Court Judge William Alexa that “relevance will come at a later witness” and the pictures were admitted.

Cross-examined

On its cross-examination, the defense began by asking Young about how thoroughly the PCSCP investigated the body.

First Barnes asked Young if he thought it was possible Bach’s body could have been dragged through the cornfields rather than along the railroad. Young said that police did not probe that possibility because the fields showed no obvious signs of stress.

Barnes questioned how much was collected at the autopsy, digging deeper on why the fly eggs weren’t used to determine how long the body had been lying in the weeds. “Wouldn’t that be good to know?” Barnes asked.

Young said that the autopsy could not determine an exact time of death.

Also, “there was a bluish substance located on her leg. Did you ever collect that?”

Young replied in the negative to that, as well as to similar questions Barnes posed regarding a “bluish-purplish looking substance” around the navel areas and the knee areas.

Young said he did notice bruises around Bach’s knees and redness around her ankles but was not sure if they were ligature marks.

Then Barnes brought up the subject of Bach’s gold 2006 Pontiac G6 and asked if Young was instructed to take swabs from the vehicle to check for DNA, specifically the steering wheel, emergency flashers, the lever to adjust the driver’s seat, or a “stain” in the back seat. Young said no, but mentioned that Bowles dusted for fingerprints around the rearview mirror, the driver’s interior window, the front fender and the hood area. Ultimately, an analysis showed that McCowan’s fingerprints were not found on Bach’s car, Young said.

The car’s floor mats were sent to the FBI for analysis to determine if they contained any blood, Young said, which came back negative. Young said he showed the results to Det. Com. Biggs who then asked him to “destroy” the mats.

Barnes asked why the police felt destroying the mats was the “best option in a major murder case,” especially if someone from the defense wanted to perform their own independent review to search for another suspect.

“The items did not have anything involved in this case,” said Young.

Questions then shifted to the investigation of the McCowan residence. Young said he was tasked with checking the yard, driveway, and outdoor buildings. No blood was found there, he said, nor in the house although it had been initially suspected that some drops were on the stairway leading into a kitchen/living room area.

Young said that he did not find any evidence of “cleanup” other than a normal range of detergents in the laundry room.

Swabs from Bach’s finger nails were taken to determine if Bach had struggled with or fought her killer, leaving traces of his or her DNA, Young said. Barnes asked Young if he had noticed scratches on McCowan when he was booked into the PCJ. Young said he saw “minor scratches” on McCowan’s torso but could not identify their exact location in pictures handed to him by Barnes saying the photos were “too small” to make out any details.

However, he could see scratches on photographs the state provided but felt they were of “no major significance.”

The fingernail swabs subsequently showed no trace of McCowan’s DNA, Young said.

Barnes asked if police had done any tests for gunshot residue. Young said they did not, given the time frame. “You would need to do that as soon as possible,” Young said.

Dog hair

Later, Barnes asked about the results of the tests on dog hairs found on Bach’s body that were sent to the FBI. Results released in June revealed that the hairs were “dissimilar” to McCowan’s dog.

Barnes asked Young if police afterwards tried to collect dog hair from neighbors.

“No,” Young said.

Was there any DNA, hair, dog hair, clothing fiber, or fingerprint evidence found by police that would link McCowan to the case? Barnes asked.

“No,” Young said, other than the exception that McCowan’s DNA was found on his cell phone.

Barnes, who also mentioned that one police report stated Bach’s body contained a trace of DNA from an “unknown female” under her left breast, asked why police hadn’t questioned anyone else, even for exclusivity purposes.

He said some people were interviewed but they all had alibis. “There was nobody that this case pointed to other than Dustin McCowan,” Young said.

Young also said that some of the results DNA reports were “inconclusive” meaning McCowan still may be a “major contributor.”

A question from a juror asked Young if Bach’s body had been thrown over the fence. Young said it didn’t appear to have been but rather it seemed as if the placement of the body had been “staged.”

 

 

Posted 2/12/2013