Decision on jury trial for airman delayed

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

A decision on whether a Cannon Air Force Base airman will face a jury trial in connection with his wife’s death has been delayed while more evidence is collected.

Investigating officer Lt. Col. Daniel Kiefer agreed Friday to hold Airman Basic Edward Novak II’s Article 32 hearing open for an undetermined period.

It is the second Article 32 hearing in the case.

His decision at the conclusion of the three-day hearing followed closing arguments during which the defense counsel said military investigators botched the investigation.

Maj. Shawn Vandenberg pointed out no physical or DNA evidence linked his client to the death, there was no indication the couple was experiencing marital discord, and the investigation focused solely on his client.

Kimberly Novak, 20, was found dead Oct. 28, 2004, in a military housing unit she shared with her husband.

In his closing, prosecutor Maj. Dan Higgins said the government did not have to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt for the purposes of the hearing and only had a burden of sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

He said Kimberly Novak’s death was financially motivated because her husband stood to collect her life insurance policy, the defendant’s alibi was flimsy, and scratches on his face and neck and a bite mark on his arm suggested signs of a struggle.

Edward Novak told investigators on the night in question he returned a borrowed car and found his wife dead on his return about 45 minutes later.

“This is a family in dire financial straits,” Higgins said. “What you have is statements of the defendant that just don’t add up, don’t make sense.”

Vandenberg placed the blame for the shoddy investigation on the Office of Special Investigations.

“We have rogue OSI agents,” he said. “They are either the dumbest OSI investigators in the history of OSI or they decided Edward Novak (killed his wife and never considered other possibilities),” Vandenberg said.

Vandenberg said his client never tried to file a claim against his wife’s life insurance policy.

Novak is serving a two-year, five-month sentence for child neglect and received a bad conduct discharge from the military.

Testimony highlights

Office of Special investigations Agent Thomas Lorang said a witness who had been threatened in a separate murder case told gang associates he was being moved as part of the Threatened Airman Program. He said Kimberly Novak was killed the same day Chris Aultman and his wife, who lived six houses away, were moved from Cannon.

The defense offered a theory Novak’s death could have been a case of mistaken identity.

OSI Agent Ryan Smith said he had been made lead agent in the Novak case roughly a month after he arrived at Cannon. He completed OSI training in September 2004, he said.

Smith said he was involved in an investigation into mishandling evidence by another agent where commanders concluded his honesty was questionable.

“It is safe to say your integrity has been questioned by your commander?” Maj. Jeff Palomino asked. “Yes,” Smith said.

OSI Agent Thad Payne said he remembers dusting the back door of the residence for prints with another agent because he can recall seeing the other agent through the sliding glass door as they worked.

“If I were to tell you that the back door of the Novak home swings open instead of sliding, would that surprise you?” prosecutor Maj. Dan Higgins said when he corrected Payne. “Yes,” Payne said with a laugh.

Payne also said a search of computers seized from the Novak home looking for evidence turned up nothing.

Payne also testified he believes he was wearing the boots that made an unidentified footprint in the Novak’s yard but didn’t send his boots to investigators.

Investigating Officer Lt. Col. Daniel Kiefer ordered the shoes be tested against the unidentified shoe print, a factor in the decision to keep the Article 32 investigation open.

— Compiled by Sharna Johnson