VALPARAISO | Dustin McCowan smiled with jail guards as he was escorted out of the courtroom Thursday afternoon after being sentenced to a near-maximum of 60 years in prison for the Sept. 16, 2011 murder of his former girlfriend Amanda Bach of Portage.
The 20-year-old, who has grown a beard since last month's trial, declined an opportunity to comment before sentencing, saying only, "I don't think the court deserves it your honor."
He was found guilty of shooting 19-year-old Bach in the throat during the early morning hours after she showed up at the Union Township home he was living in at the time with his father. Bach's partially clothed body was found the following day less than 300 yards from the house in a wooded area along County Road 625 West at the Canadian National Railroad tracks.
The victim's father, Bill Bach, called the sentence bittersweet, pointing out that McCowan could be Bach's age when released from prison, if he is eligible to cut his terms in half with good behavior and participation in various programs.
"I guess what we would like would be life without parole," he said.
His wife, Sandy Bach, objected to the defense comparing McCowan going to prison to her daughter's death.
"Their loss doesn't compare to our loss," she said.
While the sentencing brought an end to the local stage of the high profile case, which included a nearly month-long trial in February, Porter Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa appointed the public defender's office to begin work on the appeal.
Emotions were high in the packed courtroom Thursday, with a McCowan supporter storming out of the hearing after Deputy Prosecutor Cheryl Polarek called members of the McCowan family "dishonest, cowardly and pathetic."
Polarek also referenced a recorded telephone call with McCowan at the jail that the judge later explained included a comment that prosecutors would have to experience the murder of their own children to understand what the McCowans were going through.
"Dustin McCowan is the way he is because of the adults in his life," Polarek said.
County police have revealed that they believe McCowan's father, Elliott McCowan, a Crown Point police officer, may have aided his son in attempting to cover up the murder.
Sandy Bach fueled the emotional atmosphere of the courtroom with a lengthy statement describing the many levels of pain she has suffered as a result of the murder and the challenges she faces without Amanda in her life.
"I will not let you get the best of me, Dustin, I will not," she said repeatedly during the statement. "You don't like hearing that, do you?"
Bill Bach, described the pain he felt watching McCowan plug his ears and look toward the floor whenever photos of his dead daughter were shown and discussed during the trial.
"I will have to leave his fate in the hands of God," he said.
The McCowan family declined comment as they left the courtroom, but defense attorney John Vouga characterized the near-maximum sentence as "a mere formality" that offers more fuel for the appeal that he voiced confidence would result in a reversal and chance for a new trial with an unbiased jury from outside the county.
McCowan's defense team spent much of the trial criticizing the police investigation as inadequate. The defense has raised questions about the involvement of other individuals, including the Wheeler man who helped police locate Bach's body.