Former astronaut Lisa Nowak won a legal victory in her criminal court case Friday when Judge Marc Lubet granted motions to suppress the evidence seized from her car, along with the 72-page statement to police the night she was arrested in Florida.
“It is incumbent upon this court that every citizen, whether a prince or a pauper, be treated equally . ... Having considered the totality of the circumstances, [the court] finds the defendant's admission obtained by Detective Becton and the evidence obtained from the search of her vehicle must be suppressed," Judge Lubet said in his ruling.
The judge criticized Detective Chris Becton’s failure to answer Nowak’s questions about a lawyer and her rights, his refusal to allow her make phone calls and his failure to obtain written consent to search her car.
So what is left in the case against Lisa Nowak? Defense attorney Chris Tritico says the prosecution still has a classic everyday case.
“Ninety-nine percent of the cases that go to trial are tried without confessions. They still go to court," he said. "This ruling says the manner in which police took the statement violated Lisa Nowak’s rights under the Fourth and Fifth amendment. That doesn’t mean the case is over, because they have an abundance of other evidence. They have a victim who is willing to testify, and they still have the airport surveillance tape.”
Nowak is accused of attempting to kidnap Colleen Shipman, a woman she perceived as a rival for the affections of fellow astronaut Bill Oefelein. Orlando police say Nowak drove more than 900 miles from her home in Houston to stake out Shipman at the Orlando Airport as she returned from a trip. Nowak dressed in a trench coat, wore a wig and sprayed a chemical in Shipman’s face, police allege. The details of her drive to Orlando were so bizarre the incident quickly became the focus of late-night shows.
Nowak’s arrest was followed by a release of evidence that outlined the incident at the airport in great detail. The 72-page statement to police was stunning. The evidence seized from her car included steamy e-mails exchanged between shipman and Oefelein, some written while he was in space last December.
Since Nowak's arrest, she has been terminated as an astronaut by NASA, as was her former boyfriend Bill Oefelein. She is working on flight software for the Navy and keeping a very low profile.
Nowak is still scheduled to go to trial in April, but the dynamics of that trial have changed dramatically with this latest ruling from the court.