Ex-Astronaut Lisa Nowak Pleads Guilty; Must Write Letter of Apology

Colleen Shipman says every stranger is "a potential attacker."

ByJohn Berman and Suzan Clarke via via logo
November 11, 2009, 6:13 AM

Nov. 11, 2009— -- The woman who was assaulted by former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak Tuesday described the surreal assault, telling a Florida judge that she thought she was going to die.

"I knew it in my heart that when Lisa Nowak attacked me, she was going to kill me," Colleen Shipman told Circuit Court Judge Marc L. Lubet at Nowak's sentencing. "It was in her eyes: limitless, blood-chilling expression of limitless rage."

Nowak, a Navy captain, drove 1,000 miles from Houston to Orlando, Fla., in February 2007, wearing a diaper so she wouldn't have to make any bathrroom stops, and confronted Shipman in the parking lot of Orlando International Airport about her relationship with a shuttle pilot with whom Nowak had had a relationship.Shipman was hit with pepper spray but managed to escape.

Nowak, 46, pleaded guilty Tuesday to third-degree felony burglary and misdemeanor battery. She originally had been charged with two felonies -- attempted kidnapping and burglary -- along with misdemeanor battery. She could have faced up to life in prison under the more serious felony charges.

Under the plea deal, she agreed to a year of probation and 50 hours of community service.

Shipman, a former Air Force captain who worked at Patrick Air Force Base near the Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, told the judge that she is tormented by the memory of the attack.

"Every stranger I see is a potential attacker, going out in public is exhausting," she said. "I constantly look over my shoulder to keep track of everyone around me."

Nowak apologized as she pleaded guilty to the crime.

"I'm glad to have the opportunity to apologize to Colleen Shipman in person," Nowak, a married mother of three, said.

The judge made her turn to face her victim.

"I'm sincerely sorry for causing fear and misunderstanding, and all the public exposure you have suffered," she told Shipman.

In addition to her sentence, the judge also told Nowak to write a sincere letter of apology to Shipman.

Shipman Fears for Life, Gets Migraines

Nowak was arrested in the airport parking lot near a trash can where she was seen getting rid of a bag. In Nowak's bag, police found a steel mallet, a knife, a BB pistol, rubber tubing and several large garbage bags.

"I believe I escaped a horrible death that night," Shipman said.

Shipman described how she still fears for her life, suffers nightmares, migraines, high blood pressure and other medical problems and has bought a shotgun and has a concealed weapons permit.

She said her Air Force career was ruined by medical problems stemming from the attack. She now lives in Alaska with Bill Oefelein, the former space shuttle pilot whom the two women had been seeing.

Lubet ordered Nowak to have no contact with Shipman or Oefelein. The sentence included two days in jail, but the judge waived it for time already served. He said the plea could adversely affect her career and retirement benefits with the Navy.

"You brought this on yourself. I don't have any sympathy for you in that respect," he told Nowak.

The plea came after an appeals court ruled last year that diapers, latex gloves and other items found in Nowak's car could be used as evidence in a trial that had been scheduled for next month, but her six-hour police interview after her arrest could not.

The court said investigators took advantage of the former astronaut, who had not slept for more than 24 hours, coercing her into giving information.

Prosecutor Pam Davis had asked for jail time and at least five years' probation, dismissing claims from Nowak's defense attorney that Nowak had been "overcharged" by police detectives because of her high profile.

"This has nothing to do with Ms. Nowak being an astronaut," Davis said. "This is about what she did."

Nowak flew on the space shuttle in 2006 but was dismissed from the astronaut corps after her arrest. She has since been on active duty at a Navy base in Corpus Christi, Texas. Oefelein, 44, was also forced out of NASA.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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