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PCJ inmate who wrote letters to prosecution testifies

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The state’s last witness in the trial of Dustin McCowan testified that while being housed at the Porter County Jail in October 2012, McCowan told him he was being held for shooting a girl and that he had buried the pistol where “nobody could find it.”

Currently serving a six-year sentence at the Westville Correctional Facility, Daniel Grunhard said in direct examination by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Cheryl Polarek Wednesday that he was incarcerated at Porter County Jail about Oct. 10 after violating his probation with Porter County Drug Court. That’s when he first met McCowan as the two shared the same cell block with about 30 others, he said.

Grunhard testified he smuggled in bits of cigarettes in a baggie tied to his leg and would give the cigarettes to McCowan in exchange for giving messages to his family over the phone to pass on to Grunhard’s wife. Grunhard explained he didn’t have phone privileges at that time.

On the second day at PCJ, Grunhard said he and McCowan had “just basic jail conversations” asking each other why they were there. Grunhard said McCowan was surprised that he didn’t know who he was and told him “I’m here because I shot someone.”

The next conversation a few days later, Grunhard said McCowan told him he “was facing almost 50” years in prison. Grunhard said, “I asked (McCowan) ‘Did you shoot a rival gang member?’ ‘No, I shot a girl.’ I asked him, ‘Why would you shoot a girl?’ He said, ‘Because she crossed me.’”

Polarek asked Grunhard what he thought McCowan meant by that.

Grunhard said he didn’t ask McCowan any more questions about it. “I didn’t want to be that guy drilling other people for questions.” He testified he did not know details of the case or that McCowan was suspected of murdering Amanda Bach at the time.

But there was another conversation on Oct. 17. Grunhard said the two were smoking when McCowan “bragged” to him “the state doesn’t have a case” against him due to lack of evidence and investigators could not find the pistol hidden underneath the seat of his car. McCowan said he buried the pistol “so far nobody could find it” and “expected to be out (of prison) in January or February,” Grunhard testified.

Grunhard said McCowan was moved to another cell pod a few days later but said he once overheard a conversation in the jail’s day room where McCowan told other inmates he was playing cards with that the state will “never prove that he shot the bitch.”

During direct examination, Polarek asked Grunhard if he “wrote her office some letters.” He said he wrote three relaying the information McCowan told him.

“Why did you do that?” Polarek asked.

“I had felt it was serious. I had some problems with that weighing on my conscience and it seemed like the right thing to do.”

Grunhard met with Polarek and Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Frost on Nov. 2 but could not speak when it was discovered he was being represented by Vouga and Associates, the same firm defending McCowan.

Polarek asked Grunhard to testify if detectives of the County Sheriff’s Police made him feel forced to talk to them or offered him a lighter sentencing. He replied no to both. “My fate was pretty much sealed at that point.”

“Are you expecting anything?” Polarek said.

“No.”

Grunhard testified he had written to the prosecutor’s office earlier about another case with information concerning Edgar Tillery who was convicted of firing a shotgun at his workplace in Portage in March 2010.

Other attorney cross-examines

Since Grunhard had been represented by attorney John Vouga, Porter County Superior Court Judge William Alexa allowed for Hammond attorney John Cantrell to cross-examine for the defense to avoid a conflict of interest.

Cantrell pressed Grunhard on if he, in any way, would receive special consideration from the prosecutor’s office and questioned if someone else had written his letters.

You are here “to be a good Samaritan?” said Cantrell.

Grunhard agreed.

From the Tillery case, “did you receive any kind of benefit?” Cantrell asked.

Grunhard replied in the negative.

Cantrell probed into Grunhard’s criminal history. Grunhard testified he had a drug addiction and had previously been charged with a number of felonies including possession of a cocaine, aiding in a burglary, and operating while intoxicated.

He said he was convicted and sentenced to eight years and given six years on probation. While on probation, Grunhard said he fled the halfway house to Calumet Park, Ill. to try to make it on his own but relapsed into drug use.

Grunhard said he came back to Valparaiso where he asked a relative to call the cops on him because “I didn’t want to keep living like this anymore.” He was sentenced to six years after pleading guilty to charges in Alexa’s courtroom on Dec. 14, 2012.

Cantrell said it seemed odd to him that Grunhard would serve six years probation on an eight year sentence and asked if writing to the prosecutor’s office about McCowan was influenced by the fact he was facing a maximum sentence of 15 years of jail time.

Looking at the letters, Cantrell said it appeared to him the handwriting was different in places and the signature on the third letter was “significantly different” than the first two.

“The writing (on the second) was a little neater but all were signed by the same person,” Grunhard said.

Next Cantrell said he noticed Grunhard had used different inmates’ envelopes for letters two and three which he admitted to acquiring.

“I don’t want anybody to think I was trying to play games with them,” Grunhard said.

Cantrell also questioned why McCowan would have told other inmates while playing cards about shooting a female, which Grunhard said he heard “loud and clear” and if detectives ever told Grunhard that McCowan didn’t own a car where he supposedly hid the gun.

“Your story doesn’t match the facts in this case,” said Cantrell.

The letters show that Grunhard used “his car” and “the car” interchangeably, but Grunhard testified McCowan told him the car was his.

Re-direct

Polarek inquired in her redirect-examination if Grunhard wanted to be known as a “snitch.” He said “that’s not what I intended.”

Next she asked what McCowan mentioned about “his car.” “Just that one time where he said he put the pistol under the seat of his car,” Grunhard responded.

Polarek asked Grunhard if prosecutors ever gave him any information about the case. He said no.

She asked if McCowan said he had killed the girl he shot. Grunhard said McCowan never said he murdered anybody and he found out details about the case from other inmates after McCowan left the cellblock.

In recross-examination, Cantrell asked Grunhard if prosecutors said they would be “very pleased” if he would testify.

“They asked me if I was willing to and I said ‘yeah,’” said Grunhard.

None of the jurors submitted questions to the witness.

 

 

Posted 2/21/2013