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Ex-astronaut Lisa Nowak pleads guilty in attack on romantic rival

Nowak, who police say drove 1,000 miles to confront Colleen Shipman, pleads guilty to lesser charges of burglary and battery. She is sentenced to time served, probation and community service.

November 11, 2009|Sarah Lundy and Willoughby Mariano

ORLANDO, FLA. — Former astronaut Lisa Nowak turned to face the woman she was accused of attacking nearly three years ago after driving 1,000 miles across country: Colleen Shipman, who sat in the front row of a packed Florida courtroom Tuesday.

"I am sincerely sorry for causing fear and misunderstanding and all the intense public exposure you have encountered," Nowak said.

Then Orange County Circuit Court Judge Marc Lubet accepted Nowak's guilty plea of burglary of a car, a third-degree felony, and misdemeanor battery.

Taking into consideration her background, lack of criminal record, apology and other factors, the judge sentenced Nowak to two days in jail with credit for two days' time served. He also sentenced her to one year's probation and 50 hours of community service. She could have received up to five years in prison.

Nowak originally was charged with two felonies -- attempted kidnapping and burglary -- along with misdemeanor battery. She could have faced life in prison on those charges.

The deal ends a bizarre drama that titillated the nation. Nowak, now 46, a mission specialist on space shuttle Discovery's July 2006 flight, confronted Shipman at Orlando International Airport on Feb. 5, 2007.

Shipman, then 30, was dating William Oefelein, an astronaut and Nowak's former lover. Orlando police said Nowak drove nearly 1,000 miles from Houston to Orlando. Soiled diapers were found in her car. A detective said she told him she used the diapers so she wouldn't have to stop on the way. Her attorney later denied that.

Nowak, wearing a wig and trench coat, was accused of attacking Shipman with pepper spray in the parking lot. Shipman fled, and police arrested Nowak nearby. She was carrying a black bag containing a steel mallet, a 4-inch folding knife, a BB gun, 3 feet of rubber tubing and several garbage bags. A wig was found in a plastic bag in a nearby trash bin.

During Tuesday's hearing, a tearful Shipman said she was certain Nowak had intended to kill her. "It was in her eyes, a blood-chilling expression of unlimited rage and glee," she said. "I am 100% certain Lisa Nowak came here to murder me."

Shipman, who had been a captain in the Air Force, said she lost her job because of the attack. She still has nightmares, she said, and constantly looks over her shoulder. She bought a shotgun and had an alarm installed in her home, "all in effort to feel secure again, but none of it has worked."

She and Oefelein, 44, are engaged and live in Alaska. He did not attend the hearing.

Nowak remains in the Navy, but she was dropped from the astronaut corps. Oefelein also was forced out of NASA.

Lubet ordered Nowak to stay away from Shipman and to write her a "sincere" letter of apology within 10 days.

The judge also barred Nowak from contacting Oefelein.

"No books, no messages, no poems, no nothing," he said.

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slundy@orlandosentinel.com

wmariano@ orlandosentinel.com

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