Ex-astronaut challenges police work in Florida case

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ORLANDO, Fla., Sep 19 (Reuters) Former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak gave police permission to question her and search her car through nods of her head and mumbles of consent, the lead investigator testified in a Florida court today.

Nowak, who once flew on the space shuttle, is accused of assaulting a rival for the affections of a fellow astronaut. Her attorneys want the Florida court to throw out her interrogation and key evidence found in her car.

''What phrase did she utter that was a green light to you to go search that car?'' Nowak's lawyer, Donald Lykkebak, asked Orlando Police Detective William Becton.

''There was no phrase she said. It was a nod of the head and 'mmhmm,''' Becton replied.

Becton's testimony came in the continuation of a court hearing that began in August on defense motions to exclude the interrogation and evidence on the grounds that Nowak did not give informed consent and that her constitutional rights were violated.

Nowak was arrested on February 5 after police say she drove from Houston to Orlando International Airport, disguised herself and assaulted Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman. Police have said she told them she wore diapers in her car so she would not have to make as many stops along the way.

Nowak is charged with attempted kidnapping, battery and burglary.

NASA later fired both Nowak and Bill Oefelein, the astronaut who was dating Nowak and Shipman.

Becton, who in a previous court hearing said the interrogation felt like a chess match, testified that Nowak gave ''implied consent'' when she handed him a piece of paper on which she had written the location of her parked car.

COLLECTION OF EVIDENCE ''You won't see it on the transcript,'' Becton said when asked about one instance in which he said Nowak gave consent for the search.

''I won't see it?'' asked Lykkebak.

''No sir,'' Becton said.

In response to Lykkebak's suggestion that the investigation was ''sloppy,'' Becton acknowledged that mistakes were made in the collection of evidence from Nowak's car. He testified that no list was made of items seized from the car and that those items were later mixed with other evidence.

After Lykkebak asked why Becton had not made sure to get audible answers to his questions, Becton acknowledged errors in his handling of the recording of the interrogation.

''Because you didn't make the record of these inaudibles, you're asking the court to take your word for it?'' Lykkebak asked.

''That is not correct sir,'' said Becton, adding that the transcript in its entirety supports his testimony.

The judge ruled in August that the defense had made a strong case that there was no warrant for the car search and that Nowak felt she had to give her consent, shifting the burden to prosecutors to prove that it was a legal search.

Nowak's trial, originally scheduled for Sept. 24, was delayed after her lawyer announced Nowak might claim she was insane when she allegedly attacked Shipman. The new trial date of April 7 gives prosecutors more time to prepare for an insanity defense.

The court has ordered Nowak to have no contact with Shipman or Oefelein.

REUTERS GL ND2350

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