Novak defense probes agents

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Defense counsel for a Cannon Air Force Base airman charged with murder spent Thursday grilling agents from the Office of Special Investigations about their investigation into the death of Kimberly Novak.

Special Agent Mark Brashears testified during the second day of Airman Basic Edward Novak II’s Article 32 hearing that he has been disciplined for mishandling evidence in unrelated cases. However, he has not been disciplined for mishandling evidence in the Novak case.

Kimberly Novak, 20, was found dead Oct. 28, 2004, in the couple’s base housing unit.

Brashears testified via telephone he was involved in the investigation, serving as evidence custodian at Cannon during 2006.

“You have a history of improper evidence handling,” defense attorney Sterling Pendleton said.

“There have been some instances of that — that is correct,” Brashears answered.

Brashears acknowledged he had been given an Article 15, disciplinary action taken by his command in February and had received a Letter of Council documenting unfavorable actions from his supervisors. He was punished for failing to log evidence for more than 14 days, leaving a sexual assault kit in an evidence room without properly logging it in and later allowing it to be destroyed without approval from legal officials, and for transferring marijuana from one evidence bag to another and falsifying the initials of another agent on the evidence tag.

“Your misconduct here has jeopardized every other case (and) you are no longer allowed to handle evidence,” Pendleton said.
“That is correct,” Brashears said.

Under cross-examination, Brashears testified he was never punished for mishandling evidence in the Novak case.

He said the issues for which he was disciplined were mistakes and not malicious acts.

OSI agent Kelly Siler also underwent intense questioning from the defense, acknowledging the toilet in which Novak said he found his wife was not fingerprinted at the scene but removed by maintenance personnel in pieces almost a week after the death.

“So you actually picked it up and moved it before you bothered to dust it?” defense attorney Maj. Shawn Vandenberg asked.

“Yes,” Siler said.

“Any prints that may have been on that toilet before it was handled we’ll never know about, will we?” Vandenberg asked.

“I can’t answer that,” Siler said.

The toilet was kept in OSI’s evidence room more than five months before being dusted for prints, Siler said.

A palm print found on the toilet was later identified as that of a maintenance man.

Siler also testified responders found the back door of the home open as well as a gate in the back yard. With the exception of one attempt to pull a finger print, which turned out to be only dirt, from the outside of the back door, Siler said the door, door knob and gate latch were not dusted.

Defense attorneys also asked several OSI agents Wednesday and Thursday whether trace evidence was collected from the tile floor, living room carpet and bathroom floor of the home. None questioned recalled any efforts to do so.

They also asked about a sterile sheet wrapped around the body for the purpose of protecting trace evidence. Based on testimony, no one has been able to account for the sheet after the body left the scene.

Today is the final day of testimony in the Article 32 hearing, the second to be held in the case.

Upon conclusion, Lt. Col. Daniel Kiefer, the investigating officer appointed to preside over the hearings, will review the testimony and evidence and will submit his recommendations to Air Force commanders.

Air Force commanders decide if the case has merit to justify a court-martial.

Testimony highlights

Chris Aultman, former husband of Cannon airman Naomi Thompson:
Aultman testified he was a member of the California True Blood Gang prior to enlisting in the Air Force.

Even after enlisting, Aultman said he maintained his gang affiliations and said it was not uncommon to see local gang members at the Cannon gym and club.

The defense alleged Wednesday that Kimberly Novak may have been a mistaken target of retaliation against a witness in an unrelated homicide trial.

Aultman agreed to testify against William Riley, 34, after he witnessed him shoot Roshawn Pitts in the summer of 2004.
Aultman said he knew Riley and Pitts through gang connections.

Riley is serving a life sentence first-degree murder.

Aultman, who was given an administrative discharge from the Air Force in 2003, said he and his ex-wife began receiving death threats regarding his testimony and entered the Threatened Airman Program on Oct. 25, 2004. They were transferred to South Carolina within days, he said.

Aultman also testified there were no attempts on his or Thompson’s life.

Kelly Siler, OSI agent:
Siler said in spite of warnings from local law enforcement legitimizing the severity of the threat against Aultman and Thompson, he did not think it was credible and never considered it in his investigation.

He said he never considered a connection between the threat and Kimberly Novak’s death three days later.

“(Naomi Thompson’s) primary concern was that her husband would not stay on base,” he said, explaining because Aultman continued his associations with downtown gang members, he did not believe there was a true threat to his or Thompson’s safety.

“So what would it take, his body being found for it to become an official investigation?” Maj. Shawn Vandenberg asked.

“Maybe, it depends on the circumstances,” Siler said.

“Would you disagree with what your own OSI detachment states (in it’s report about the seriousness of the threat against Aultman and Thompson)?” Vandenberg asked.

“I would,” Siler said.