Taxpayers pick up $13,519 tab in McCowan murder appeal

2013-12-07T17:00:00Z 2014-08-13T13:59:38Z Taxpayers pick up $13,519 tab in McCowan murder appealBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com
December 07, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | A private attorney was hired to file an appeal on behalf of convicted murderer Dustin McCowan, but not before taxpayers picked up the $13,519 bill for the lengthy court transcripts used in the challenge.

The 3,186 pages of transcripts were completed Aug. 19 at the request of his public defender. But private defense attorney Thomas Vanes entered the case 11 days later, according to the online docket of the Indiana Court of Appeals.

McCowan had been represented by a public defender after it was determined at the time of his sentencing in March that he did not have the resources to hire a private attorney. The county-funded legal services included copies of the transcripts, which are the most expensive the court has seen.

There does not appear to be any wrongdoing in the decision to hire a private attorney after receiving the publicly funded transcripts since 21-year-old McCowan has retained his pauper status while just starting out on his 60-year prison sentence.

A jury found McCowan guilty in February of shooting his former girlfriend, 19-year-old Amanda Bach, of Portage, in the throat during the early morning hours of Sept. 16, 2011, 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 next day, less than 300 yards from the house in a wooded area along County Road 625 West at the Canadian National Railroad tracks.

McCowan, who has maintained his innocence, is seeking a new trial or sentencing before a new judge in part, by challenging the technique used by investigators to place his cellphone at or near key locations at the time of the crime, according to the appellate brief filed by Vanes.

The technique did not involve GPS technology, but rather a new system Verizon had in place at the time, Vanes said.

"Verizon itself could not and would not vouch for its reliability," he argued.

The appeal also claims it was improper to introduce the cellphone records because it violated a state constitutional prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. Police obtained the phone records with an emergency request and yet should have had a warrant, according to the appeal.

The appeal also faults the court for failing to notify the defense before sentencing about plans to introduce a recorded telephone call from the jail where a relative tells McCowan that since police, prosecutors and judge let the real murderer go free, they deserve to have their own children murdered.

The judge should also have excused himself from the case at that point considering the contents of the recording, according to the appeal.

McCowan already failed in May at the local court level at overturning his conviction and sentence based on the use of the recording.

Lastly, Vanes accused the court in the appeal of failing to properly instruct jurors of their duty to reconcile evidence with the presumption of McCowan's innocence.

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