Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Defense tries to raise doubt driver saw defendant

Back to Front Page
 

 

 
 

 

By JEFF SCHULTZ

A Union Township man driving to work in the early morning hours of Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, testified on Thursday that he saw a man—walking on C.R. 650W south of Dean’s General Store—whom he later identified as Dustin McCowan.

Michael Steege said, in direct examination by Porter County Prosecuting Attorney Cheryl Polarek, that, around 2:30 a.m., he saw the figure walking between the middle and east side of C.R. 650W heading south. He described the subject as having “dirty blond, curly” hair, a “scruffy” beard, and a skinny build, and said that he resembled pop singer Justin Timberlake.

The figure, Steege said, also had on “stone-wash faded jeans” and a maroon hooded sweatshirt with his hands in his pockets and his hood showing the tops of his hair. Steege testified that he slowed his vehicle to 5-10 mph and got a full view of the figure’s face, which he said was “emotionless.” They looked each other “eye-to-eye,” he said.

“I said, ‘What the hell? It’s 2 in the morning,’” and Steege recalled thinking at first that it was a group of kids but was surprised to see that the figure was alone. “It’s kind of odd but it’s not because that’s kids.”

But he “walked normal,” Steege said, and did not scurry off the road into the cornfield on the side.

Polarek asked Steege if he could identify who he saw that night.

“Is that person who you saw that morning sitting here in this courtroom?”

“I am looking at the individual now.”

“Who is it?”

“Dustin McCowan.”

“How sure are you?”

“I’m 100 percent sure. I have no doubt in my mind.”

Next, Steege said as he approached Ind. 130 on C.R. 650W about 2:35 a.m., he saw an unoccupied “tannish, goldish vehicle” in the parking lot of Dean’s General Store ten feet off the road. It didn’t strike him as unusual since he has seen cars broken down on the road before but he distinctly remembered seeing the dome light on with the doors open.

And, Steege said, he also saw a “dark-colored Chevy pick-up truck,” also unoccupied, with its engine shut off in the parking lot maybe 20-25 feet west of the “tannish, goldish vehicle.”

Leaving for home Friday evening after working a double shift, Steege said he called his wife to ask if he could pick up anything for dinner. She said that the intersection at Dean’s was barricaded, with police and people gathering, after an abandoned car was found in the parking lot.

Steege said he went there to give police his account of how he saw the car and the truck early that morning.

A week later, a co-worker showed Steege a newspaper article that had McCowan’s picture and identified him as the suspect in the murder of Amanda Bach, the abandoned car’s owner. Steege said he then decided to call investigators and told them about the figure he saw walking down the road.

Cross-examination

Defense attorney John Vouga opened his cross-examination by telling Steege “you had to be tired” after working a shift on the previous day. But Steege said he was “wide awake, on the get and go.”

Vouga next asked Steege if he could describe the vehicle in the lot in more detail, asking if he had noticed a flat tire or if its emergency lights on. Steege could not affirm, but said the dome light “stuck out like a sore thumb.”

Vouga asked Steege if he knew investigators ever followed up with the truck.

“I have no idea,” Steege replied.

Then, Vouga asked if Steege could shed light on why he never mentioned the figure walking on the road until after he saw McCowan’s picture in the paper.

Steege said he did not testify or tell anyone because he didn’t think it was suspicious, but “now it makes sense.”

“If it was suspicious, you would have told somebody,” said Vouga.

Vouga then asked Steege about his description of the figure. “Was he wearing shoes? Was he barefoot?”

“I don’t know,” replied Steege, who said that the only part he focused on was the figure’s face, “maybe for a few seconds.”

So Vouga asked him about the face. “Was his nose ‘pimply’?” “Did he have freckles?” “What color were his eyes? Were they the same as Justin Timberlake’s?”

But Steege only could answer about the scruff—which he said he would classify as a beard—the curly hair, and the blank expression.

Vouga then directed Steege’s attention to his deposition, in which he said he thought the figure to be “about his size,” 5’ 6’’ or maybe 5’ 8.’’ Vouga also said that McCowan is 6’ 3’’ and weighs 175 pounds.

Vouga asked Steege whether he knew of other Wheeler High School students similar in appearance to McCowan, including one in Steege’s own neighborhood who “bears a striking resemblance.”

Steege said he did not.

Vouga also asked Steege if the police had asked him to identify McCowan in a photo line-up. Steege said no.

Hair

Later on Thursday, the state called McCowan’s friend Jordan Walbright to the stand questioning her about the evening of Sept. 15, 2011.

A juror submitted a question asking Walbright what style McCowan’s hair was around that time.

Walbright said “it was not curly” and was the same style to what McCowan had now, straight and a little bit poofy.

Newspaper carrier

Before Steege, the state called Thomas Cole to the stand.

A carrier for The Times of Northwest Indiana, Cole said he was traveling his route delivering papers when he passed by Dean’s at about 1:30 a.m.

In direct examination, Cole said the parking lot at Dean’s was empty when he got there to drop off his bundle at the newspaper box on the northeast corner. He said he did not see any people out that morning as he continued on his route.

 

 

Posted 2/8/2013