Evidence Against Former Astronaut Tossed

Friday, 02 Nov 2007 08:41 PM

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- A judge agreed Friday to toss much of the evidence against Nowak, a former astronaut accused of making a diaper-assisted, 1,000-mile drive to confront a woman vying for the affections of the same space shuttle pilot.

Investigators took advantage of 44-year-old Lisa Nowak, who had not slept for more than 24 hours, coercing her into giving information in a lengthy arrest interview, Orange County Circuit Judge Marc L. Lubet said.

Lubet granted a defense motion to throw out comments she made during the six-hour interview and items seized during a search of her BMW, including maps to alleged victim Colleen Shipman's home, large garbage bags, latex gloves and some soiled toddler-sized diapers.

Nowak's defense steadfastly denies she ever wore or soiled them to avoid stopping during her drive from Houston, but a detective said Nowak told him she had.

Nowak was arrested in February after allegedly confronting Shipman, the girlfriend of former space shuttle pilot Bill Oefelein. Authorities say Nowak stalked Shipman at the Orlando airport and tried to get into her car, then attacked her with pepper spray. Shipman was able to drive away.

The ruling was a big win for the defense. But evidence from a duffel bag Nowak was carrying — a steel mallet, buck knife, BB gun resembling a real 9mm handgun, gloves and six feet of rubber tubing — remains in the case.

Prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the order entered late Friday.

Defense attorney Donald Lykkebak said he was "extremely pleased and gratified" by the ruling.

Nowak is charged with attempted kidnapping, battery and burglary with assault. She has pleaded not guilty, though her attorney has filed notice of intent to use an insanity defense.

In pretrial testimony, Nowak said she never consented to the car search, and felt strong-armed into talking with officers because they mentioned carjacking charges.

Orlando police Detective Chris Becton had testified that Nowak was hardly the sleep-deprived, confused suspect she purported to be. He characterized Nowak as a cunning suspect who bargained with information in an interview similar to a "chess match."

The judge ruled Becton had been evasive when Nowak asked about an attorney, and hadn't read her Miranda rights before he started questioning.

Lubet said Becton wrongly made "direct and implied promises of benefit," vowing to talk to prosecutors on her behalf if she cooperated.

"He made threats and used coercive psychological techniques," Lubet wrote.

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