Judge nixes request to move murder trial

2013-02-04T17:00:00Z 2013-02-05T11:40:08Z Judge nixes request to move murder trialBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com
February 04, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | A defense attorney made a last-minute attempt Monday to move the murder trial of Dustin McCowan out of Porter County or at least choose jurors from elsewhere.

John Vouga argued any local pool of potential jurors would be prejudiced against his client by a story that appeared in Sunday's edition of The Times.

The article refers to cellphone evidence that may not be admissible during the trial and gives the appearance the judge may already believe McCowan is guilty, Vouga said.

The story also contains a prejudicial headline and a damaging photo of McCowan in his jail garb, Vouga noted.

Porter Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa denied both requests, saying defendants are guaranteed a fair and impartial jury, not jurors who have not heard of the case.

Alexa denied the same request by the defense in August.

Alexa also said the timeline attached to the story appeared accurate and any questions about the impact of the story can be asked during the jury selection process that began Monday afternoon.

Attorneys will pick 12 jurors and four alternates because of the potential for the trial to last up to four weeks.

McCowan, 20, is charged with murdering one-time girlfriend Amanda Bach, 19, of Portage, by shooting her in the neck on Sept. 16, 2011.

Bach's body was found the following day less than 300 yards from McCowan's home in Union Township.

McCowan, who has maintained his innocence, was in court for the jury selection Monday and had traded his orange jail garb for a gray dress suit. Security was tight with several uniformed sheriff's officers scattered around the inside and outside of the fifth-floor courtroom.

About 13 of the 60 to 70 potential jurors called in Monday said they had heard nothing about the murder case. Alexa told those who have heard about the case that if they are chosen for the jury, they must set aside what they think they know and base their considerations solely on what they hear from the witness stand.

During questioning from prosecutors and the defense, most of the first batch of potential jurors said they could fulfill that obligation.

Among the few who could not was a man who said his son has attended school with Bach's sibling.

"I wish I could," he said. "I don't know I can."

Another potential juror who predicted problems was a woman, who said when asked by the defense that she already believes McCowan is guilty.

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