Friday, August 31, 2007

Nowak Gets a Break

A Florida judge has ruled that disgraced former astronaut Lisa Nowak no longer has to wear her GPS monitoring bracelet, while she awaits trial on charges of assaulting and attempting to kidnap a romantic rival.

In a decision released yesterday, Orange County Circuit Court Judge Marc Lubet granted Nowak's request to remove the ankle bracelet, which tracked her movements anywhere in the world. Officials involved in the monitoring program told the Orlando Sentinel that Nowak's bracelet was removed from her leg by the end of the day.

The monitoring device was attached to Nowak almost six months ago, as part of the conditions for her release from jail. In her petition to have the bracelet removed, the Navy Captain complained about the cost she was required to pay ($105 a week) and how it interfered with her lifestyle.

As we noted in a previous post, Nowak's complaints were largely without merit--and Judge Lubet agreed. In his ruling, the judge said that the former astronaut's rationale for removing the bracelet--it was too heavy, prevented her from exercising, kept her from traveling on commercial aircraft--was insufficient. However, Lubet decided to grant her request anyway, noting Nowak's compliance with the monitoring effort and the absence of criminal behavior in her past.

Judge Lubet also decided that the bracelet was not serving its intended purpose, protecting the woman that Nowak attacked, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman. After being attacked by the Navy officer at the Orlando Airport in February, Shipman made "three or four" trips to Houston to see her boyfriend, then-astronaut Bill Oefelein, who was previously involved with Nowak. According to Lubet, her willingness to visit Houston--where Nowak also lived--suggested that the GPS device offered no protection to Shipman.

While ordering the bracelet removed, Judge Lubet set additional restrictions on Nowak's activities that prevent her from visiting Florida (where Shipman resides) or Virginia (where Oefelein is now assigned) without the court's permission. Those directives will also be incorporated into a formal order from Nowak's commanding officer, raising the possibility of military punishment--as well as court penalties--if she violates the restrictions ordered by Lubet.

The judge has yet to rule on two other motions filed by Nowak's attorneys. They ask that her statments to police and items seized from her car be dismissed as evidence if the case goes to trial.


While Lubet's decision to remove the monitoring bracelet was a clear victory for Nowak, her defense team still faces an uphill battle with their planned insanity defense. As one legal expert told the Sentinel, "generally, you argue an insanity defense when you don't have anything else to argue."

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