Ex-astronaut Lisa Nowak was back in court today, trying to get a judge to throw out key evidence against her.
Her trial, on charges of assault and attempted kidnapping in a love triangle, is now set for April 7. It was scheduled to begin next week, but her attorney, Don Lykkebak, asked Judge Marc Lubet to consider two motions — either of which, if granted, would have a serious impact on her case.
One motion would prevent Nowak's 72-page statement to an Orlando police detective from being used as evidence in her case. The other would keep the evidence seized from Nowak's BMW from being used against her as well.
Nowak is a Navy captain, more famous now as a criminal defendant than as an astronaut, who by all accounts performed well on her one space shuttle mission in July 2006. She is the mother of three and separated from her husband, Richard, who is a flight controller at the Johnson Space Center.
Many who know her want one key question answered: How could a bright, talented woman fall so dramatically from grace?
She reportedly broke up with her husband shortly before the weekend she drove a thousand miles to Orlando to confront Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, the woman who is said to have been her rival for the love of fellow astronaut Bill Oefelein. In an airport garage, Nowak allegedly stalked Shipman and attacked her with pepper spray.
In her car, police say they found, among other things, rope, a pellet gun, a knife and a steel mallet.
An Affair Turned Sour
Evidence released since Nowak's arrest on Feb. 5 suggests a love affair between Nowak and Oefelein. He thought it was over; she apparently thought differently.
Oefelein told police he had been having an affair with Nowak for "some time." They had worked together on several projects at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and had belonged to the same bicycling team. He was paying for a cell phone for her so he could call her privately.
Oefelein met Shipman at the Kennedy Space Center last fall while he was training for a December shuttle flight. He continued to date Nowak even while he was getting more involved with Shipman, according to his statement to investigators from the Orlando Police Department.
Shipman thought she was the only one dating Oefelein. "He told me he had a relationship with a lady that he works with and that the relationship was over, and he had told that lady that the relationship was over," she said. "I asked him if he made it clear to her that it was over and he said yes."
When asked by police whether Oefelein had ever mentioned having problems with Nowak, Shipman replied, "I asked him, are you sure that she's OK with this? Because you know how these things go, and I said is there gonna be some crazy lady showing up at my door trying to kill me, and he said, no, no, she's not like that, she's fine with it, she's happy for me."
Apologies to the 'Other' Woman
Nowak apologized to Shipman after an earlier hearing last month — it was an apology that stunned legal observers.
"The past six months have been very difficult for me, my family and others close to me. I know that it must have been very hard for Colleen Shipman and I would like her to know how very sorry I am about having frightened her in any way and the subsequent public harassment that has besieged all of us."
Those who know Nowak are still mystified. NASA has asked its astronauts not to comment on her case, citing the coming trial.
Astronaut Piers Sellers spoke out on her behalf. He flew with Nowak on the shuttle Discovery and "spent his own time and dime" to fly to Orlando last month to testify for her during her hearing.
He told reporters, "Just over a year ago, I was on a space shuttle mission with Lisa Nowak. There were many times during the spaceflight when my life was literally in her hands, I felt then and I feel now that I was in good safe hands."
Lykkebak, Nowak's attorney, has filed documents with the Orange County Court stating his intent to pursue a mental health defense on Nowak's behalf.
Lykkebak told ABC News, "Even the most naive observer should recognize that Lisa Nowak's behavior on Feb. 5 was uncharacteristic and unpredicted for such an accomplished person with no criminal record or history of violence."