Chesterton Tribune

Police: Cell phone GPS links McCowan to Amanda Bach murder; Alexa denies bond

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By KEVIN NEVERS

GPS locates of Dustin McCowan’s cell phone activity in the early morning hours of Friday, Sept. 16, put him, or at least his phone, at the site where Amanda Bach’s body would be found some 36 hours later.

That was the testimony on Wednesday of the lead investigator in the Bach murder case, at a bond hearing before Porter Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa.

Alexa denied McCowan’s motion for bond.

In his direction examination of Det. Com. Jeff Biggs, McCowan’s attorney, Bob Harper, opened the proceeding with a point-by-point review of the probable cause affidavit on which the murder charge was initially based.

Harper’s goal: to show that the Porter County Sheriff’s Police “jumped the gun,” as he contended, in focusing on McCowan in the hours after Bach’s disappearance and subsequent discovery of her body.

Under questioning, Biggs stated that investigators still do not know where Bach was murdered, either at the “place of her final rest” or elsewhere; never undertook to estimate the time of her death; and found nothing incriminating McCowan at the final resting place, at McCowan’s home, or in his luggage or on his person when taken into custody on Saturday, Sept. 17, in Bloomington.

Biggs further stated, under direct examination, that McCowan’s neighbor—who told investigators she heard a male voice, early in the morning of Sept. 16, telling Amanda to “get up”—never actually identified that voice as McCowan’s.

Biggs, moreover, prodded by Harper, conceded that the statement of a juvenile girl—who around 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 16 saw McCowan leave with his father, a Crown Point police officer, in his father’s squad car and drive north on C.R. 625W—“really doesn’t add much,” as Harper put it, “to the probable cause affidavit.”

Biggs did say that investigators, while executing a search warrant at McCowan’s home on Sept. 17-18, found a “small red stain on the stairway,” which was swabbed and sent to the FBI lab for processing; a “small black ribbon” in the McCowan front yard, also collected although its origin is unknown; and an unidentified “clear liquid” found on the vinyl-covered rear seat of McCowan’s father’s Crown Point squad car. Similarly collected for testing were the shoes worn by McCowan when taken into custody. But to date the results of those tests are still pending, Biggs said.

Harper did elicit this piece of information from Biggs: investigators knew before filing their probable cause affidavit—but made no mention of it in the affidavit—that McCowan’s father was unable to find the .38 caliber revolver which he customarily kept under the sofa in the living room.

Yet there was really only one revelation in Harper’s direction examination of Biggs: on Nov. 4—a month and a half after the probable cause affidavit was filed—investigators received GPS locates on McCowan’s cell phone activity on Sept. 16.

Those locates put McCowan—or his cell—in three places in the early morning hours of Sept. 16, Biggs stated:

•Around 1:30 a.m., near Bach’s final resting place.

•Around 2:30 a.m., on the road between his home on C.R. 625W in Union Township and Dean’s General Store on Ind. 130, where Bach’s abandoned car would be found less than a hour later.

•Around 3:00 a.m., at Dean’s General Store, 23 minutes before her car was found.

New Evidence

Under cross-examination by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Cheryl Polarek, Biggs also revealed the following:

Bloodhound: On an unspecified day after McCowan’s arrest—but probably on Sept. 24, during a massive ground search—a bloodhound tracked Bach’s scent from the property line of McCowan’s home to her final resting place. The bloodhound also tracked McCowan’s scent from that resting place to Dean’s General Store. The bloodhound did not track a “neutral third party’s” scent, Biggs said.

Eyewitness? On an unspecified day after McCowan’s arrest, a man reported that, early in the morning of Sept. 16, he’d been driving northbound on C.R. 650W—the likely route to Dean’s General Store—when he saw, walking southbound on the east side of the roadway, a male subject. That man described the subject as a “Justin Timberlake look-a-like” and told investigators, after seeing McCowan’s photo in the newspaper, that he’s “100-percent certain” that the subject he saw was McCowan.

Bullets: McCowan’s father provided, at investigators’ request, a sample of the ammunition used in the missing .38 caliber revolver. The round provided—a copper-jacketed hollow point with a gold center—is similar to the medium-caliber round recovered from Bach’s body, Biggs stated.

Shirt: Investigators found, along the Canadian Railroad tracks west of C.R. 625W, an orange shirt which showed little sign of exposure to the elements, Biggs stated. The significance of the shirt, Polarek said: McCowan was captured by a Speedway video camera wearing an orange shirt on the morning of Sept. 16, before he left for Bloomington.

Interviews

Interviews with friends and acquaintances of both McCowan and Bach had this information for investigators, Biggs told Polarek:

•Only hours after Bach had disappeared—and before he left for Bloomington—McCowan was voicing his belief that “she was probably dead” and that he “couldn’t believe that she was probably dead.” The mother of one of his friends, whom McCowan visited prior to leaving for Bloomington, reported that McCowan was upset and excused himself at one point to vomit in her toilet.

•Another friend recalled in an interview that, as long as a “couple years ago,” he and McCowan were walking the CN tracks just north of his home when McCowan pointed south—in the direction of Bach’s final resting place—and said “If I ever needed to hide anything, that’s where I’d hide it.”

•Some of McCowan’s acquaintances reported that he has “an anger problem.”

•Other of his acquaintances have seen “him in possession of weapons.”

Inconsistencies in

McCowan’s Statements

In addition, Biggs made particular note of two apparent inconsistencies in McCowan’s statements to investigators and in communications to others:

•At 4:24 a.m. on Sept. 16, McCowan told an officer who contacted him that he had called Bach earlier but been unable to reach her. But, Biggs stated, phone records indicate that McCowan did not place any calls to Bach’s phone until 4:36 a.m.

•During the roughly 90 minutes when GPS locates put McCowan, or his cell, outside his home and at locations linked to the murder—Bach’s final resting place, the road to Dean’s General Store, and at Dean’s itself—McCowan was texting a neighbor two doors down to the effect that he was busy at home doing chores. In that same 90-minute period, Biggs stated, McCowan texted his father to the effect that he was not at home but at the neighbor’s two doors down.

Extent of Investigation

Since the investigation began, over 90 pieces of evidence have been collected and sent to the FBI for testing, Biggs told Polarek.

Search warrants have been obtained and executed for the phone records of 17 persons.

Upwards of 150 people have been interviewed—most of them friends and acquaintances of McCowan and Bach—and investigators have failed to contact only three persons whom they still wish to interview. Those three, Biggs stated, have been “uncooperative.” In general, he added, “one friend would lead to another friend who would lead to another.” The chief purpose of the interviews: investigators are asking “about problems with Amanda Bach, conflicts.”

On a night about two weeks after Bach’s body was found, Biggs stated—at roughly the same time as the events in question—he ran the route from Dean’s General Store to McCowan’s home. It took him 19 minutes, 44 seconds. Traffic was very light and only one vehicle passed him. Other officers manned various points along the route to ask any motorists whom they encountered whether they were out and about early in the morning of Sept. 16.

Bond

Harper argued for bond on the grounds that investigators “jumped the gun,” “haven’t gotten any physical evidence yet” to implicate McCowan, and can’t even say where Bach was murdered. Instead, they focused on McCowan largely because he was the last person to see Bach alive and because of the proximity of her final resting place to McCowan’s home, he said. “The presumption of guilt is not strong,” Harper concluded.

Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Frost, on the other hand—in summarizing Biggs’ testimony—said this: “We have not scratched the surface of evidence in this case.” He added that “bond is not an entitlement” and that “the presumption of guilt is strong.”

Alexa, in denying McCowan’s motion for bond, ruled that the state has shown McCowan had the opportunity to commit the crime and could be guilty and that “a jury verdict can be based on circumstantial evidence.”

“Today justice was set forth for Amanda,” her father, William Bach, said outside the courthouse after Alexa’s ruling. “Our daughter can never seek justice for herself, so it is our duty to seek it for Amanda. We’re confident justice will be served.”

The Courtroom

McCowan appeared in court in an orange jail jumpsuit, his hands and feet shackled, guarded closely by two uniformed deputies, one directly behind him throughout the hearing, the other to his side.

Two plainclothes officers stood at the back of the courtroom, as did Sheriff Dave Lain.

The courtroom was filled to capacity, with Bach’s friends and family on one side, McCowan’s on the other. The proceeding was orderly throughout.

 

Posted 11/17/2011