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Astronauts meet again, in courtroom

The former romantic rivals don't speak, but Lisa Nowak issues a statement apologizing to Colleen Shipman.

August 25, 2007|Sarah Lundy and Sarah Langbein | Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, FLA. — It had been almost seven months since Lisa Nowak and Colleen Shipman came face to face in a dark parking lot at Orlando International Airport.

Friday they met again, this time before a television audience that tuned in to watch the latest developments in their courtroom drama.

Amid a throng of national media, Nowak -- whose arrest ended her career as a NASA astronaut -- apologized to Shipman, her former romantic rival and the woman she is accused of terrorizing.

"The past six months have been very difficult for me, my family and others close to me," Nowak said after a five-hour hearing at the Orange County Courthouse. "I know that it must've 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 the subsequent public harassment that has besieged all of us."

Shipman -- who attended part of Friday's hearing and testified that she was still afraid of Nowak -- left hours before the apology.

But Kepler Funk, her attorney, was there for the news conference.

"Sounds like an admission of guilt to me," Funk said.

Nowak, 44, stood before the media and read her statement, the clicking cameras nearly drowning out her wavering voice. They were some of her first public comments since she became known as a criminal defendant rather than an astronaut.

The Navy captain, who was a mission specialist on shuttle Discovery's flight in July 2006, is charged with attempted kidnapping and burglary with assault, punishable by up to life in prison if convicted. She's also charged with misdemeanor battery. She has pleaded not guilty.

Friday's hearing -- aired live on Court TV -- ended with no resolution. Another hearing will be held.

But the key players in this public drama broke their silence under oath.

Nowak took the stand to explain the problems she has with wearing the court-ordered GPS monitoring device on her ankle, and told the court that a police officer never showed her a warrant to search her car.

"He asked me many times for consent and said he would get a search warrant," Nowak testified. "I thought he would search my car no matter what."

Shipman's attorney told the judge that Shipman hoped Nowak would have to continue wearing the monitoring device. Shipman, 30, lives in Brevard County, Fla., home of the space program.

But Nowak's attorney, Donald Lykkebak, wanted to hear that from Shipman, who sat in the front row about 10 feet from Nowak. The Air Force captain spoke firmly, with little emotion, when Lykkebak asked her why she traveled to Houston, where Nowak lives, if she is so frightened by his client.

"I traveled to Texas to visit my boyfriend, where I do feel comfortable and I do feel protected," she said. She did not say if her boyfriend was Navy Cmdr. Bill Oefelein, the former astronaut who was the object of both women's affections.

Shipman said that she was still afraid of Nowak and that the monitoring anklet made her feel safe.

"When I'm home alone and there's nobody there with me, it is a comfort," Shipman said.

Nowak is free on $25,500 bail and wearing the tracking anklet as a condition of her release. She told the court it was bulky, uncomfortable and expensive -- the weekly rental rate of $105 reaching $3,000 so far.

She also said it prevented her from doing exercise she was required to do as a military officer.

Nowak promised to abide by all court orders if the device was removed, including not having contact with Shipman.

Assistant state attorney Pamela Davis suggested Nowak could do certain exercises and had been able to function despite the inconvenience. She also dismissed the anklet's expense.

"You're paying a media consultant -- fire the consultant," she told Nowak.

Testimony also addressed whether Nowak wore diapers to avoid stopping in driving straight from Houston to Orlando. Astronauts use them on shuttle missions, and that detail has made Nowak a punch line on comedy shows.

In June, Lykkebak called it "the biggest lie in this preposterous tale," and criticized the media for circulating the story.

Orlando Police Det. William Becton reiterated in testimony that he found three dirty diapers in a garbage bag inside the former astronaut's BMW. He said Nowak told him she used them on the drive from Houston to Orlando to limit stops.

This report includes information from the Associated Press.

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