Defense: Airman’s spouse mistaken target

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

A Cannon Air Force Base homicide victim may have been the mistaken target of retaliation against a witness in an unrelated homicide trial, defense attorneys allege.

An Article 32 hearing that began Wednesday at the base is the second in the case against Airman Basic Edward Novak II. He is charged with the Oct. 28, 2004, death of his 20-year-old wife, Kimberly Novak, found dead in the military housing they shared.

An agent formerly with the Office of Special Investigations at Cannon testified Wednesday that he placed Naomi Thompson, an airman at the time, and her husband Chris Aultman, who lived on the same street as the Novaks, into a protective program three days before Kimberly Novak was found dead.

Aultman, Agent Christopher Haider said, was an eyewitness in a civilian homicide case at the time.

Thompson contacted military law enforcement on Oct. 25, 2004, and said she had received a threatening phone call regarding her husband’s testimony against William Riley. She told agents the caller threatened to kill her husband and indicated their home location was known.

Haider testified he contacted Clovis law enforcement officials who verified the potential danger and told him there was cause for concern.

“(Local law enforcement informed you Riley and his associates) presented a higher than normal risk of retaliation and that they would kill Aultman if they could (and) at that point you knew safe accommodations were needed for (Aultman and Thompson),” defense counsel Capt. Sterling Pendleton asked Haider.

“Yes, sir,” Haider replied.

Aultman and Thompson were escorted to their home that night to retrieve personal items and were taken to a hotel under a fictitious identity. They were placed in the Threatened Airman Program and sent to another base, Haider said.

In 2006, Aultman testified against Riley at a trial in the 9th Judicial District Court. Riley, 34, was convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of 20-year-old Roshawn Pitts, and was sentenced to life in prison in July, according to court records.

Haider, who was later involved in the investigation of Novak’s death, said investigators never examined a possible link between the two events.

Under cross examination, Haider said an official case was never opened into the threat and the caller was never identified.
Aultman is expected to testify this week.

Defense counsel also produced testimony from several other witnesses involving the investigation and forensic evidence collected at the scene.

The first Article 32 hearing took place in June and resulted in a recommendation by the Air Force for the case to be forwarded to a court-martial for trial.

At the defense’s request, the Article 32, an investigation into the solidity of a case against an accused military member, was reopened for a second inspection.

Lt. Col. Daniel Kiefer, the investigating officer presiding over the hearing, talked with council prior to the start of proceedings about the fact he had not read the evidence and testimony presented during the first hearing at the request of the defense.

Testimony highlights

Jeffrey Fletcher, a forensic scientist specializing in DNA with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, testified to finding Kimberly Novak’s DNA on clothing belonging to her husband that was seized during the investigation. It was more than likely left by saliva on a shirt and pants, Fletcher said, and it would not be unusual to find DNA transferred to the clothing of a spouse living in the same home.

Fletcher testified he was sent numerous items of clothing and other evidence from the Novak residence for testing.

Fletcher said scrapings taken from under the fingernails of Novak showed to be only her DNA and none leading back to her husband.A bite mark on Edward Novak’s arm, proposed to be a defensive wound by the prosecution, was discovered too late for DNA testing to see if Kimberly Novak was the biter, Fletcher said. Novak told investigators he bit his own arm out of stress after his wife died.

Rodney Schenck, a forensic latent print examiner with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, testified there was a fingerprint and a shoe print found at the scene that could not be identified.

Schenck said he compared the fingerprint found on the back of the TV to those of everyone who worked the scene, the defendant and the victim and ran it through two fingerprint databases with no success. Schenck said though the print was a good one, it was an angle of the finger that would make it difficult to match in a database because cataloged fingerprints are taken from a frontal, flat perspective.

He also examined the shoes and boots of individuals known to have been at the scene and did not find a match to the footprint located in the back yard.