VALPARAISO | A former inmate at the Porter County Jail claims Dustin McCowan told him while they were locked up that he shot someone named Amanda and buried the gun so well it never will be found.
Daniel Grunhard said McCowan, who's accused of killing Amanda Bach, told him he shot Amanda with a gun he kept under the seat of his car because she crossed him.
Grunhard, 35, who is now serving a six-year sentence at the Westville Correctional Facility after failing out of the county's drug court program last fall, said McCowan did not say how Bach had crossed him.
Porter Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa confirmed Wednesday afternoon that prosecutors may use Grunhard's claims as part of their case against 20-year-old McCowan, who will stand trial Feb. 4 on a charge of murdering 19-year-old Bach, of Portage.
Bach, who was McCowan's former girlfriend, was found dead Sept. 17, 2011, about 300 yards from McCowan's Union Township home.
The claims by Grunhard triggered a hearing Wednesday afternoon because he is a client of John Vouga's Portage law firm, which also is representing McCowan.
Vouga told Alexa on Wednesday if Grunhard is allowed to testify, he and other attorneys at his firm will be put in a professional and ethical conflict that could result in sanctions, including suspensions.
The firm has confidential information about Grunhard from his own criminal case that could be used to his detriment if the Valparaiso resident testifies against McCowan, Vouga said. The firm would be in conflict with their representation of Grunhard if they reveal the information at trial, but would be at odds with their responsibility to McCowan if those details are not used in his defense, Vouga said.
Deputy Prosecutor Cheryl Polarek said Grunhard's testimony is an essential part of the case against McCowan.
Alexa said Grunhard will be allowed to testify, but an independent defense attorney will be brought in to handle the cross-examination after he has testified on behalf of prosecutors. The attorney will be filled in on the details of this case but will know none of the confidential information from Grunhard's criminal case.
Alexa left the choice of the attorney up to Vouga, but suggested turning the decision over to the county public defender's office.
At Vouga's request, Alexa agreed to contact the state Supreme Court to shed light on the steps being taken to address Vouga's ethical concerns. Vouga said he was told the state Supreme Court still can take disciplinary action if a lower court determines there is no conflict of interest.
"Obviously we're concerned about that," Vouga said.
Polarek told the court in a memorandum that Grunhard was made no promises in return for his testimony.