VALPARAISO | A Union Township man told jurors Thursday morning he is 100 percent sure he saw Dustin McCowan walking south along County Road 650 West about 2:25 a.m. Sept. 16, 2011, the morning McCowan is accused of murdering former girlfriend Amanda Bach.
"I said, 'What the hell? It's two-something in the morning,'" Michael Steege said.
Steege said he remembered thinking at the time the young man he saw wearing a maroon or green hooded sweatshirt looked like entertainer Justin Timberlake, but he did not identify him as McCowan until a couple of weeks later after seeing McCowan's jail booking photo in the newspaper.
The testimony comes a day after the defense turned the tables in the McCowan murder trial and suggested the crime was carried out by a Wheeler man who helped police find Bach's body fewer than 300 yards from where McCowan and his family were living at the time in Union Township. The young man identified as McCowan was seen walking between where Bach's body and car were found.
In response to questioning from defense attorney John Vouga, Steege said he did not tell anyone about seeing a young man that morning until seeing McCowan's photo in the paper.
Steege said he had told police about seeing a truck and a car that turned out to be Bach's a little further up the road that same morning in the parking area of Dean's General Store on Ind. 130 in Wheeler.
Steege said he was driving north on 650 West on his way to work when he slowed to 5 to 10 mph while passing the young man. He said the young man was wearing the hood of the sweatshirt, but he was able to make eye contact and saw his "dirty blonde curly hair."
He said the young man was not running and showed "no expression whatsoever." Steege said he did not know McCowan or Bach before hearing about the case.
Vouga picked at Steege's description of the young man, challenging the accuracy of his memory and the claim it was McCowan. Steege stood by his story and pointed across the courtroom to McCowan as the man he saw.
Steege said he was never called in to pick McCowan out of a police lineup.
Later in the day, Union Township resident Jordan Walbright, who described herself as McCowan's best friend, testified that McCowan repeatedly sent her text messages between 1:36 and 4:07 a.m. Sept. 16, 2011, that he was going to come to her house, two doors away.
Yet McCowan never showed and she did not see him until they left at 2 p.m. for a previously planned trip to Indiana University in Bloomington.
Walbright later told a defense attorney it was not uncommon for McCowan to fail to show up as planned. She said she had told him not go to IU because of Bach's disappearance.
Brandon Hutchins, who said he has been like a brother to McCowan, testified that McCowan argued a lot with Bach and threatened her harm when he feared she was pregnant, although she was not.
"He said he'd punch her in the stomach if she was," Hutchins said. "It would ruin his life."
When asked by the defense if he was at home rather than at school at Vincennes University at the time of Bach's killing, Hutchins said no. Prosecutors later showed that the Sheriff's Department verified Hutchins was away at school.
In yet further testimony Thursday, Mike Rosta, a Union Township school social worker and middle school dean, said McCowan had come to him for advice Sept. 16, 2011, and he suggested McCowan help with the search for Bach.
Rosta said he learned the following day that McCowan went on the trip to Bloomington instead.
"I said, 'Dustin, you need to get your butt home,'" Rosta said during a phone call with McCowan.
Rosta, who knows McCowan from school and the Natural Helpers program, said his communications with McCowan were not adding up and he asked him, "Is there something you need to tell me?"
According to the defense, McCowan responded, "What are you talking about? What do you mean? No. No."