Attorneys agree airman case circumstantial

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

The prosecution and defense agreed on one thing at the conclusion of an evidentiary hearing to determine if a Cannon Air Force Base airman should stand trial for murder in connection with his wife’s death: the case hinges on circumstantial evidence.

Defense attorney Maj. Shawn Vandenberg told the hearing investigator during his summation Wednesday the only thing Air Force prosecutors have proven in their murder case against Airman Edward Novak II is that his wife is dead.

There was no forensic evidence or DNA introduced during the three-day hearing held on base conclusively tying Novak to the death of his wife, defense attorneys said.

“There is some circumstantial evidence at the very best for the government’s case, but it doesn’t get you anywhere near a murder charge,” Vandenberg said.

During his closing argument, prosecutor Lt. Col. Don Eller pointed out, “The accused was the last to see his wife alive and the first to see her dead,” and Kimberly Novak died by means of blunt force trauma and strangulation.

Eller also implored the investigating officer to question the 30 to 40 minutes Edward Novak said he spent returning a borrowed car prior to reporting his wife’s death and banging noises heard by a next-door neighbor the night of the slaying.

He stated the Novaks were living paycheck to paycheck, suggesting Edward Novak had a lot to gain from the life insurance policy his wife had.

Vandenberg said instead the defense had shown substantial evidence the Novaks had a loving marriage, and while they had debts, “if living paycheck to paycheck is an indicator of murder, many airmen would be guilty.”

Novak was charged March 21 with premeditated murder and child endangerment, according to base officials. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Kimberly Novak, 20, was found dead Oct. 28, 2004, in a military housing unit where she resided with her husband and infant daughter. Military officials said she died of blunt force trauma.

Novak told emergency responders he found his wife dead in an upstairs bathroom with her head inside the toilet, according to testimony Tuesday from Kelly Siler, an agent with Cannon Air Force Base’s Office of Special Investigations. Siler also said Novak told emergency responders the toilet seat, lid and a TV were on top of her head and neck.

Siler said Tuesday Novak was released the night of the homicide and was not examined for evidence or formally questioned. Inconsistencies in statements he made and the autopsy later led investigators to scrutinize him, Siler said.

Lt. Col. John Davis, investigating officer overseeing the proceedings, will submit his recommendations to the general officer in charge of Cannon and six other Air Force bases under the 12th Air Force, according to Vandenberg.

The 12th Air Force commander, with the assistance of legal advisors, will consider Davis’ recommendation and determine whether the case will proceed to trial.

It could be weeks or months before it’s decided if Novak will stand trial, according to Vandenberg.

Novak, who is also facing a child abuse charge, is being held in confinement on base.

Testimony highlights from the hearing Wednesday:
• Testifying by telephone, forensic dentist Dr. Ward Loomis of Albuquerque said, based on dental impressions, a bite mark on Edward Novak’s wrist was caused by Kimberly Novak.

• Tech. Sgt. Kevin Cotton, a crew chief with the Cannon Fire Department, was recalled regarding testimony he gave Tuesday. Cotton stated he is not a forensic pathologist and his estimated time of death was based on his personal experience and opinion.

Attempts to resuscitate Kimberly Novak were made, Cotton said, but she did not respond to CPR and heart sensors did not detect any life signs. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Cotton said the blue color of her lips led him to believe she had been dead approximately 15 minutes.

Some of the evidence submitted during the three-day hearing included:
• Photos of a bite mark on Edward Novak’s wrist.

• A report prepared by a forensic dentist identifying the bite as that of Kimberly Novak.

• Copies of bills showing past-due amounts.

• A document showing the date a life insurance policy was enacted.

• A crime lab report showing Edward Novak’s fingerprints were not found on the life insurance paperwork.

• Photos of flowers, cards, love notes, love coupons and banners and other items exchanged between Novak and his wife expressing their love for each other.

• An autopsy report identifying homicide by blunt force trauma to the head and strangulation.

• A crime lab report on wet clothing found in the home the night of the homicide.

— Compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson