Lisa Nowak to plead temporary insanity

By Travis Reed The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. – Former astronaut Lisa Nowak is pursuing a temporary insanity defense on charges that she assaulted and tried to kidnap a romantic rival, according to a court document released yesterday.

Nowak suffered from major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia and “brief psychotic disorder with marked stressors,” defense attorney Donald Lykkebak wrote in his notice of intent to rely on the insanity defense.

He also noted that the already petite Nowak recently lost 15 percent of her body weight and struggled with “marital separation.”

“Even the most naive observer should recognize that Lisa Nowak’s behavior on February 5 was uncharacteristic and unpredicted for such an accomplished person with no criminal record or history of violence,” Lykkebak said in a separate public statement.

Nowak, 44, was arrested in February after confronting Colleen Shipman, the girlfriend of a former space shuttle pilot Nowak had been seeing. The former astronaut allegedly stalked Shipman at the Orlando airport, then attacked her as Shipman arrived at her car.

Police say the married mother of three had driven nearly 1,000 miles from Houston to Orlando, using diapers to avoid taking breaks, and then pepper-sprayed Shipman while trying to get into her vehicle. Shipman was able to drive away, and Nowak was arrested. Police said she had a duffel bag with her that contained a steel mallet, 4-inch knife and a BB gun.

Nowak was charged with attempted kidnapping, battery and burglary with assault and has pleaded not guilty.

She told police said she just wanted to talk to Shipman to find out “where she stands” in the love triangle. She was dismissed from the astronaut corps a month after her arrest and has a trial set for September.

At a Florida court hearing on defense motions Friday, Nowak apologized to Shipman.

She also asked to have her electronic monitoring bracelet removed, and her attorney asked the judge to toss out her police interview and evidence from a search of her car. Circuit Judge Marc L. Lubet did not immediately issue a ruling, saying he wanted to hear more from both sides.

“The past six months have been very difficult for me, my family and others close to me,” Nowak, a Navy captain and pilot, told a crowd of reporters outside the courtroom. “I know that it must have also 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 about the subsequent public harassment that has besieged all of us.”

The police officer who had interviewed Nowak testified Friday that it was the hardest of his career. Detective Chris Becton described a “chess game” in which he and Nowak bartered for details and he felt like the interview subject.

Shipman told the judge she was still scared of Nowak. Nowak is barred from Brevard County, where Shipman lives in Florida, and she must file notice to visit the rest of the state.

Kepler Funk, an attorney for Shipman, said yesterday that the defense discussed the notice with prosecutors before the hearing, and that it should have been brought up in court. Funk said the medical conditions mentioned in the filing strengthened his argument that Nowak’s ankle bracelet should stay.

“It is troubling that these conditions were not discussed in open court on Aug. 24, 2007, when the court was tasked with determining whether it is appropriate to remove Ms. Nowak’s ankle monitor,” Funk said.

Two Texas psychiatrists will testify to Nowak’s condition at the time of the alleged attack, Lykkebak wrote in the court filing. Under Florida law, a defendant pleading insanity must prove he or she did not understand their actions or the consequences, or didn’t know they were doing anything wrong.