VALPARAISO | A Porter County jury took six and half hours to find Dustin McCowan guilty of murder late Tuesday night in the Sept. 16, 2011, slaying of his former girlfriend Amanda Bach.
McCowan, who was standing when the verdict was read, closed his eyes and then sat down and looked toward the floor.
Twenty-two police officers stood guard inside the courtroom of Porter Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa when the verdict was read shortly before 11 p.m.
McCowan’s mother cried in the courtroom, as did Bach’s mother, who was holding a photo of her daughter.
Cheering could be heard from outside the downtown courthouse minutes after the verdict was announced. Supporters shouted, “Remember Amanda!”
Bach’s parents, Bill and Sandy Bach, said they were pleased with the verdict.
“Finally, some justice,” Bill Bach said.
“It doesn’t bring her back, but justice did prevail,” Sandy Bach said.
Bill Bach praised the efforts of prosecutors and police.
“We never lost faith in them,” he said.
When asked how he and his wife endured the trial, which included graphic testimony and photos, he replied, “By focusing on getting justice for Amanda."
"She was brutally murdered," Bill Bach said.
Sandy Bach added, “By a coward.”
“He can’t kill again,” Bill Bach said.
Bill Bach said he is hoping for the maximum when 20-year-old McCowan is sentenced at 2 p.m. March 28, but pointed out McCowan still will be a young man when he’s released.
Defense attorney Nicholas Barnes asked for each juror to be polled after the verdict was read, requiring each one to affirm his or her decision before the courtroom.
Defense attorney John Vouga said he plans to appeal the decision.
“We knew we had an uphill battle with this being a Porter County jury," he said.
Barnes was surprised by the verdict.
“I’m saddened for the McCowan family,” Barnes said. “Justice was not served here today.”
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Matt Frost said he was gratified by the verdict, which he said showed that 18 months of work by his office and police was not in vain.
Deputy Prosecutor Cheryl Polarek said there was a lot of evidence.
“All the things pointed to Dustin McCowan,” she said.
The jury began its work at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday after listening to a total of four hours of closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Closing arguments became heated when Barnes accused prosecutors of hiding witnesses and otherwise deceiving the jury during the three weeks of the trial.
Frost told jurors he was disturbed by the accusations.
"We gave them everything," Frost said. "He (Barnes) should be ashamed of himself, but he won't be."
Barnes also criticized police for failing to carry out a complete investigation and eliminating other potential suspects.
Among those Barnes referred to was Wheeler resident Nick Prochno, who led police to the area where Bach's body was found.
"This is a person that fits having done this," Barnes said. "Dustin McCowan, this boy, did not kill her."
Frost said all evidence points to McCowan as the killer, and not Prochno.
"Is it no wonder no one wants to get involved anymore?" Frost asked the jury.
Barnes pointed out that no DNA or bodily evidence was found linking McCowan to the murder.
"The science will set Dustin McCowan free," Barnes said.
Frost told jury there are greater limitations to DNA evidence than is portrayed on television.
"Real life is not like a CSI program," Frost said. "Science is not setting Dustin McCowan free,"
Barnes had compared the case against McCowan to a rotten peach.
"It's time to throw this peach away," he said.
Earlier Tuesday Polarek told jurors the only element of murder in dispute is whether Dustin McCowan is the person responsible for killing Bach.
Polarek spent most of the morning recapping the evidence presented over the past three weeks that she believes shows McCowan is guilty of the Sept. 16, 2011 murder.
Polarek said the defense is trying to blur the facts.
"It is a classic throw everything at the wall to see if it sticks," Polarek told jurors.
Polarek also offered potential motives for the slaying, including that McCowan had falsely believed that Bach was pregnant and that Bach was coming in between him and a friend.
Tuesday morning began with friends of Bach showing their support outside the Porter County Courthouse.
Christine Duda stood in the freezing rain outside the courthouse holding a sign that read, “She who leaves a trail of glitter is never forgotten.”
“Her personality just sparkled,” she said in reference to glitter on the sign. "She’s testing us right now,” she said about the winter storm that was just starting to hit the area.