DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A Florida appeals court on Tuesday questioned whether evidence found in the car of a former astronaut accused of making 1,000-mile drive to confront a romantic rival should be allowed at her trial on charges of attempted kidnapping.
Lisa Nowak is accused of trying to abduct a woman vying for the affections of the same space shuttle pilot in February 2007 at the Orlando International Airport. She has pleaded not guilty and is free on bond.
A lower court judge threw out Nowak's comments from a six-hour interview after her arrest, saying investigators took advantage of the former astronaut, who had not slept for more than 24 hours, coercing her into giving information.
The judge also said evidence found in the car — including maps to alleged victim Colleen Shipman's home, large garbage bags, latex gloves and some soiled toddler-sized diapers — should not be allowed at trial because detectives used statements from the interview to find Nowak's car.
Nowak's attorney has said that the diaper's were her children's and that she did not wear them during her trip from Texas.
Prosecutors appealed the lower court's decision to toss out the evidence, and the three-judge state appellate court panel will make a ruling before Nowak's trial begins.
The appellate judges on Tuesday questioned whether Nowak waived her rights before the interview and what detectives knew before they searched her car. They wanted to know if detectives would have found Nowak's car without the help of her statements.
Assistant Attorney General Kellie Nielan argued that Nowak voluntarily waived her Miranda rights by continuing to talk to detectives during the interview.
But Judge Richard Orfinger told Nielan that the state needed to prove that Nowak had waived her rights. Orfinger also questioned whether there was probable cause to search the car.
"Give me a snapshot in time of what law enforcement knew," Orfinger said, "before seeing what was in the car."
Nielan told the judges that detectives were allowed to search the car because Nowak stalked Shipman to the airport parking lot and tried to get into her car, then attacked her with pepper spray. Shipman, the girlfriend of former space shuttle pilot Bill Oefelein, was able to drive away.
Detectives were wondering, "was she going to talk to her or was she going to kill her?" Nielan said.
Nowak's attorney, Donald Lykkebak, told the judges that it was "sheer speculation" that there was anything in the car.
The panel of judges did not say when they would issue a decision.
Nowak, a Navy captain, was dismissed from the astronaut corps after her arrest and has since been on active duty at a Navy base in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Lykkebak said after the hearing that Nowak was anxious to get on with her life.
"Anybody who is facing serious criminal charges has anxiety, and she is like anybody else," Lykkebak said. "This is very stressful to anyone."
Nowak is charged with attempted kidnapping, battery and burglary with assault. Her attorney has filed notice of intent to use an insanity defense.