VALPARAISO | Nearly a year and a half after 19-year-old Portage resident Amanda Bach was found fatally shot along railroad property in rural Union Township, jury selection is set to begin Monday afternoon to determine whether her one-time boyfriend, Dustin McCowan, is responsible for her death.
Porter Superior Court Judge Bill Alexa has set aside a month for the trial, which is an unusually large amount of time for this type of case.
Prosecutors said they have a witness list of 60 people, in addition to the 15 listed by the defense.
A high level of security also is planned for the proceedings and the court administrator's office is summoning a larger-than-normal number of potential jurors. About 70 potential jurors reportedly are being called in for the start of the selection process at 1 p.m. Monday and another 80 will be available the following day if 12 jurors and alternates are not chosen by that time.
Prosecutors do not have the gun used in the killing, but police said during a bond hearing in November 2011 that after collecting 90 pieces of evidence and interviewing up to 150 people, nothing points to anyone but McCowan as being responsible.
McCowan has maintained his innocence.
The case has attracted attention from the public and media. Hundreds of volunteers showed up to help search for Bach on Sept. 17, 2011, the day her body was found about 300 yards from McCowan's home with a fatal bullet wound to the front of her neck.
More than 100 supporters turned out again about a week later to take part in a candlelight parade down Willowcreek Road in Portage in honor of Bach.
Among the key pieces of evidence prosecutors plan to introduce during the trial is testimony from a McCowan neighbor, who told investigators she was awakened on the night Bach went missing by the sound of a man's voice outside her home saying, among other things, "Amanda get up."
She also heard what she thought was a female voice say, "I can't believe this is happening," but did not see anyone.
Police also revealed during the 2011 bond hearing that while McCowan spent nearly three hours text messaging a neighbor on the night of the slaying claiming he was wrapping up chores at his home before coming over to visit, he never showed up at the neighbor's home. A trace on his cellphone placed it not only at his house, but also at the nearby sites where Bach's body and vehicle were found.
A motorist driving in the area during the early morning hours of Sept. 16, 2011, told police he saw a "Justin Timberlake-looking kid" walking along the road, whom he later identified as McCowan after McCowan's arrest photo appeared in newspapers, police said.
McCowan's father, Joseph Elliott McCowan, a Crown Point police officer, told police a .38-caliber revolver was missing from his home, according to testimony at a November 2011 bond hearing for Dustin McCowan. Ammunition for that weapon appears to match the bullet taken from Bach's body, according to court reports.
A former inmate at the Porter County Jail, who is serving a six-year prison term after failing out of the county's drug court program, also is expected to testify that McCowan told him while they were in lock-up that he shot someone named Amanda and buried the gun so well it never will be found.
Daniel Grunhard has told police McCowan said he shot Amanda with a gun he kept under the seat of his car because she crossed him.
McCowan, who is believed to be the last person to have seen Bach alive, left on a planned trip to Bloomington after the girl went missing and her vehicle was found abandoned outside Dean's General Store on Ind. 130 in Wheeler.