VALPARAISO | After denying a motion for a change of venue Thursday, Porter County Superior Court Judge William Alexa set a trial date of Feb. 4 for Dustin McCowan in the murder of Amanda Bach.
Alexa said a fair jury could be found in Porter County despite pretrial publicity of the case but left the door open to a possible change of venue if selecting a jury proves difficult.
John Vouga, lawyer for McCowan along with Nicholas Barnes, said he would file a motion for a sample jury to determine if the change would be warranted. In arguing for the move to another county or of selecting a jury from another county, Vouga said, while only one news story on the case appeared in the last few months, the case is all over social media.
He said a Justice for Amanda page on Facebook has 16,000 "likes," but Alexa questioned whether they all came from Porter County residents. Prosecuting attorney Matt Frost said unless it could be shown all the "likes" were from Porter County, it could be just as difficult seating a jury in other counties.
Vouga also said the fact the motion was not filed within 10 days of the charges as required should not be a factor because he and Barnes were not hired until March. Bach, 19, was shot to death Sept. 17, and the body was found about 300 yards from McCowan's Union Township home. Vouga said he did not know about interest in the case until he did an Internet search after a June 8 story in The Times.
Much of the morning hearing was taken up with the motion to suppress the work of another jury, this one the Sheriff's Department's bloodhound named Jury. On Sept. 21 and 22, Jury and her handler, Sgt. Charles Douthett, were called to the area of Wheeler south of Ind. 130, where Bach's body was found, to follow scent trails of Bach and McCowan.
Barnes said Indiana does not allow dog tracking to be used as evidence linking a person to a scene because it is unreliable. Douthett explained how a bloodhound "lives for its nose" because of the sensitivity of its sense of smell. It can pick up a scent trail up to five months later and even track a person in a vehicle.
After describing how Jury followed the separate trails of Bach and McCowan the first day and McCowan the second day, Douthett said he warned the Sheriff's Department that Jury had been retired for a couple of years and not worked a scene. Douthett had been retired three years at the time but has since rejoined the department part time.
He said Jury showed a strong reaction at the site where Bach's body was found and at a couple of other sites tied to the case that could link them to McCowan.
Alexa said he wanted to do more research on the dog tracking issue because it might be time to revisit whether it should be admitted, as it is in other states. Alexa said a motion to return 29 guns and a PlayStation 3 and controller confiscated from the home of McCowan's father should more appropriately be filed with the Sheriff's Department.