VALPARAISO | Attorneys for convicted murderer Dustin McCowan have taken the unusual step of securing the right to attend a court-ordered interview with McCowan to be used when he is sentenced March 28.
Defense attorney John Vouga said he or his legal partner, Nicholas Barnes, want to be present to protect McCowan's constitutional rights.
"We encourage them to cooperate," Vouga said of his clients. "The only element that we feel is essential is when a probation officer tries to talk to a defendant about his version of the events."
McCowan, 20, was convicted Feb. 26 of the Sept. 16, 2011, slaying of an ex-girlfriend, Amanda Bach, 19. Bach's body was found with a bullet hole through the throat along railroad tracks less than 300 yards from the Union Township home he was living in at the time with his father.
McCowan faces between 45 and 65 years behind bars.
Vouga said he encourages his clients to direct the probation officer asking this type of question back to the details in the plea agreement or to the facts that came out during a trial.
"He doesn't need to get the defendant's version," he said.
Porter County Chief Probation Officer Stephen Meyer disagreed.
Probation officers are instructed by state policy to seek out the defendant's version of the crime as part of the job of painting a full picture of the individual for the judge to consider at sentencing, he said.
The presentence report in question includes all sorts of details of the offender's life, including past criminal history, mental health and any substance abuse.
The report also includes a risk assessment and needs, and a victim's impact statement.
"I don't think an attorney should be sitting in on these interviews," Meyer said.
Meyer said he understands Vouga's desire to limit the information provided by McCowan in preparation for an appeal in the high-profile murder of Bach, a Portage resident.
The problem is the presence of an attorney can interfere with defendant sharing information needed for the presentence report, he said. It is in the defendant's best interest to cooperate.
"This is their chance to present themselves the best they can for the judge," Meyer said.
The interview in question has yet to take place, but will likely last between two and three hours, he said. The entire presentence report is typically 10 pages in length and should be complete by March 21 or 22.