Novak case in jury's hands

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — Jurors will begin deliberating the fate of Airman Basic Edward Novak II today after hearing more than six hours of closing arguments Monday.

Novak faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the death of his wife.

Much of their decision will weigh on conflicting expert opinion in the case. The prosecution contends Kimberly Novak, 20, died of blunt force trauma to the head and neck. The defense asserts she died of a viral infection that attacked her heart.

Kimberly Novak died Oct. 28, 2004, in the military housing unit she shared with her husband and infant daughter.

“Four to five minutes,” prosecutor Lt. Col Dan Higgins told the jurors. “When Kimberly Novak lost consciousness in that bathroom, she had four to five minutes left to live.

“As those seconds went by Airman Novak had a choice. He could have released the pressure. She would have lived.”

Higgins described the bathroom where Kimberly Novak died as the scene of a death match, referencing photos of a broken candle holder, overturned table and general disarray.

Higgins told jurors the defense was asking them to ignore inconsistent statements Novak made, a pocket of time he said he was gone before finding his wife dead, and the testimony of the prosecution’s forensic pathologist, who outlined a grouping of injuries he added up to blunt force trauma with strangulation.

He said the opinion of a defense witness, pathologist Dr. Harry Bonnell, that a rare viral condition causing Kimberly Novak’s sudden death was “bizarre.”

Defense attorney Maj. Shawn Vandenberg argued the government had produced no evidence connecting Novak to his wife’s death, no eyewitnesses and no motive.

Vandenberg said the fact the prosecution elected not to rebut the defense’s case and bring in experts to challenge the testimony they presented was an indication the prosecution case was weak.
“That’s it? That’s all they’re bringing us?” he asked.

“After three years of investigation, all the resources of the United States government at their hands, they want you to convict Edward Novak? You’ve got to be kidding me,” Vandenberg told jurors.

“This is not a death by homicide… After (Dr. Harry Bonnell’s) testimony, we should all be going home.”

Vandenberg termed the prosecution’s pathologist a “rookie,” who made a series of mistakes and oversights in Kimberly Novak’s autopsy. By comparison, Bonnell performed more than 14,000 autopsies in his 25 years as a pathologist.

“They couldn’t attack the science so they attack the scientist,” he said.

Prior to leaving for the night, jurors requested they be given a pair of handcuffs to examine in their deliberations and also requested a whiteboard with markers and erasers and sticky notes.

It takes four of the five juror members to reach a decision.