Chesterton Tribune

 
 

In cross-examination McCowan defense develops theory of alternative suspect

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The Wheeler man who actually found Amanda Bach’s body in a tree line south of the Canadian National right-of-way—and who suggested to VPD police officers that the site might be worth searching in the first place—denied under cross-examination on Wednesday that he had prior knowledge of Bach’s being left there.

More to the point, he denied—when pressed by defense attorney Nick Barnes—that he had left Bach there himself.

Barnes began, in his cross-examination of Nicholas Prochno, to develop a theory of alternative suspects, the possibility of which—in his opening statement on Tuesday—defense attorney John Vouga suggested was never pursued by the Porter County Sheriff’s Police.

Under Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Cheryl Polarek’s direct examination, Prochno recalled how, on Saturday, Sept. 17—while hundreds of persons were searching for Bach in Wheeler and its environs—he approached two VPD officers, Det. Sgt. Dave Castellanos and Officer Philip Rochon, who had been assigned to investigate a tip about a tarp seen under a house in Prochno’s neighborhood.

Prochno also recalled advising the pair that he didn’t think Bach could have been abducted on C.R. 625W—because there are no places along that stretch of road where a vehicle would have to stop—but did remember his fiancee once telling him that she had seen “females congregating” along the Canadian National tracks near Dustin McCowan’s home.

Castellanos and Rochon—whose tip had not panned out—asked Prochno to lead them to the site, he did, and then the three of them walked eastbound and abreast along the tracks, until he saw a “beaten path” in the vegetation just south of the tracks.

“I went in and looked and saw the lower torso of a body,” about 25 to 30 feet in, Prochno testified. He then “started hollering” and from that point Castellanos and Rochon took control of the scene.

Did Prochno have “any reason at all to know” Bach was there? Polarek asked.

“No,” Prochno said.

Had he seen her there before taking the police officers to the site? Polarek pressed.

“No,” Prochno said.

Did he have “any knowledge she would be in that area?” Polarek asked one more time.

“None,” Prochno said.

Cross-Examination

Barnes opened his cross-examination by asking Prochno whether, at the time, he knew who McCowan was. Prochno said that he did, that—as a former sprinter—he had seen McCowan while “speeding-training with kids” in the Wheeler High School field house. Did he have “a very high opinion” of McCowan? “No,” Prochno replied.

Barnes then asked Prochno to relate his movements on the night of Thursday, Sept. 15. Prochno testified that, after returning around 11 p.m. from a visit to his father’s in Valparaiso, he “pretty much” stayed up all night, going to bed finally around 4:30 a.m.

Did Prochno go to work on Friday? Barnes asked.

Prochno said he did.

Did investigators ever ask Prochno to “prove” he went to work? Barnes asked

No, Prochno said.

Barnes then probed the source of the information which Prochno said he’d had from his fiancee, that she had seen girls by the railroad tracks near McCowan’s home. How many times had she seen “girls congregating” there? “At most two times?”

Yes, Prochno said.

About a year and half before Bach went missing?

Prochno said that he couldn’t recall how long before Bach went missing his fiancee had seen girls on the tracks.

So “you lead” the VPD officers to the site “and you went in and almost instantly find the body?” Barnes asked.

Yes, Prochno said.

“Hundreds of others had been searching for 34 hours and you lead them straight to the tracks and the body?” Barnes asked again.

“Yes, I did,” Prochno said.

Barnes next called Prochno’s attention to a recorded statement which he gave Rochon later on Saturday, Sept. 17, after Bach had been found. Did Prochno recall telling Rochon that he “always kind of wanted to be a police officer,” that he’d been “doing my own investigation in my head” after hearing about Bach’s disappearance, that he’d speculated that somebody could have “jumped in her car behind her”? Did Prochno recall saying those things?

Prochno testified that, if his statement had been recorded, he “must have.”

Barnes pursued that line. “What did you mean” when you told Rochon that “there are no points of abduction” along C.R. 650W?

He meant, Prochno said, that there are no stop signs or traffic signals or train tracks.

Where did Prochno learn the phrase “point of abduction”? Barnes asked.

“It’s just a term I used,” Prochno said.

Where did he learn the phrase “point of attack,” when describing the Canadian National grade-crossing near McCowan’s home, as a place where stalled trains often force motorists to stop and wait? Barnes pressed.

“I have no idea,” Prochno replied.

Where did Prochno acquire the piece of information, which he’d discussed with Castellanos and Rochon on Saturday, that Bach hadn’t called either McCowan or her father before disappearing? Barnes asked.

From Facebook and the newspapers, Prochno testified.

Barnes—after saying that he himself had “scoured” Facebook and newspapers in that time frame and hadn’t seen that information reported—repeated his question.

“I don’t recall where I learned” it,” Prochno said.

“Isn’t it true the only way you could have learned that was because you interrupted Amanda?” Barnes asked.

“No,” Prochno said.

“And you were getting rid of her body the next night?” Barnes continued.

“No,” Prochno said. “Absolutely not. I’ve never been in contact with Amanda Bach in my entire life.”

Did investigators ever speak with Prochno again, after his interview with Rochon? Did they collect DNA or fingerprints for exclusionary purposes? Did they ask to see his cell phone? Did they ever search his house or property? Barnes concluded.

Prochno answered all those questions in the negative.

Re-Direct

Polarek asked Prochno three questions on re-direct examination.

“Did you know Amanda?”

“No.”

“Did you kidnap Amanda?”

“No.”

“Did you kill Amanda?”

“No.”

Castellanos

The state’s next witness, Castellanos himself, recalled on direct examination being approached by Prochno, as he and Rochon had been approached by others previously; speaking with him; and following him to the Canadian National right-of-way.

There, Castellanos testified, he was the one—not Prochno—who first spotted what Prochno has described as a “beaten path,” what Castellanos described as some “matted foliage,” which Castellanos believed to have been made by a group of searchers whom he had previously seen emerge from the tree line south of the tracks.

Was there anything “suspicious” about Prochno’s demeanor, either before or after Bach’s body was found? Polarek asked.

“Not to me,” Castellanos testified.

Barnes, on cross-examination, wanted to know whether Castellanos found it “odd” that they had “found the body so fast,” after speaking with Prochno.

“Had I not pointed out the area” matted down, Castellanos said, “I might have found it odd.”

You didn’t tell PCSP Det. Com. Jeff Biggs that Prochno led you directly to the body? Barnes asked.

“He didn’t lead us directly to the body,” Castellanos replied.

 

 

Posted 2/7/2013