Astronaut in love triangle charged with attempted murder
The Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. — A NASA astronaut accused of trying to kidnap a romantic rival for a space shuttle pilot's affections was charged with attempted first-degree murder Tuesday and jailed on $25,000 bail.
"The intent was there to do serious bodily injury or death," said Orlando Police Sgt. Barb Jones, referring to a new steel mallet, knife, rubber tubing and large garbage bags that police found in Lisa Marie Nowak's possession.
Nowak, a 43-year-old Navy captain and married mother of three, had already been charged with attempted kidnapping, attempted vehicle burglary with battery, destruction of evidence and battery.
A judge earlier Tuesday said she could be freed on $15,500 bail provided she stayed away from the other woman and wore a monitoring device. But the judge increased that amount after prosecutors filed attempted murder charges.
If convicted of attempted murder, she faces between 30 years and life in prison, authorities said.
Chief astronaut Steve Lindsey, who flew with Nowak to the international space station last July aboard space shuttle Discovery, and fellow astronaut Chris Ferguson attended the earlier hearing.
"Our primary concern is her health and well-being and that she get through this," Lindsey told reporters later. "Her status (with the astronaut corps) has not changed."
Ferguson said he was "perplexed" by Nowak's alleged actions.
Police said Nowak drove 900 miles, donned a disguise and was armed with a BB gun and pepper spray when she confronted a woman she believed was a competitor for the affections of Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein, an unmarried fellow astronaut.
Oefelein, 41, piloted the space shuttle Discovery in December. He and Nowak trained together but never flew a mission together.
Nowak told police that her relationship with Oefelein was "more than a working relationship but less than a romantic relationship," according to an arrest affidavit.
Inside Nowak's vehicle, which was parked at a nearby motel, authorities found a pepper spray package, an unused BB-gun cartridge, latex gloves and e-mails between Oefelein and Colleen Shipman.
They also found a letter "that indicated how much Mrs. Nowak loved Mr. Oefelein" and Shipman's home address, the arrest affidavit said.
Police said Nowak told them that she only wanted to scare Shipman into talking to her about her relationship and didn't want to harm her.
"If you were just going to talk to someone, I don't know that you would need a wig, a trench coat, an air cartridge BB gun and pepper spray," Jones said. "It's just really a very sad case."
Defense attorney Donald Lykkebak said Tuesday that he believes the attempted murder charge was filed because police were unhappy Nowak would be released on bail.
"I guess they didn't like the ruling in court this morning, did they? You think they would have done it if she was still in jail?" he said.
According to authorities, Nowak believed Shipman was romantically involved with Oefelein, and when she found out Shipman was flying to Orlando from Houston, she decided to confront her early Monday, according to the arrest affidavit.
Nowak raced from Houston to Orlando wearing diapers in the car so she wouldn't have to stop to go to the bathroom, authorities said. Astronauts wear diapers during launch and re-entry.
Dressed in a wig and a trench coat, she waited for Shipman's plane to land and then boarded the same airport shuttle bus Shipman took to get to her car, police said. Shipman told police she noticed someone following her, hurried inside the car and locked the doors, according to the arrest affidavit.
Nowak rapped on the window, tried to open the car door and asked for a ride. Shipman refused but rolled down the car window a few inches when Nowak started crying, the statement said. Nowak then sprayed a chemical into Shipman's car, the affidavit said. Shipman drove to the parking lot booth and police were called.
An officer reported following Nowak and watching her throw away a bag containing the wig and BB gun. Police also found a steel mallet, a 4-inch folding knife, rubber tubing, $600 and garbage bags inside a bag Nowak was carrying when she was arrested, authorities said.
Oefelein and Shipman, who worked at Patrick Air Force Base near the Kennedy Space Center, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
NASA spokesman James Hartsfield in Houston said that, as of Monday, Nowak's status with the astronaut corps remained unchanged. "What will happen beyond that, I will not speculate," he said. He said there were no rules against fraternizing among astronauts.
According to NASA's official biography, Nowak is a Naval Academy graduate who has a master's degree in aeronautical engineering. She has a teenage son and younger twin girls.
Oefelein has two children and began his aviation career as a teenager flying floatplanes in Alaska, according to a NASA biography. He studied electrical engineering at Oregon State University and later earned a master's degree in aviation systems at the University of Tennessee Space Institute. He has been an astronaut since 1998.
Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy and Jessica Gresko in Miami contributed to this report.
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