Jurors view interrogation video

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — In video and audio interrogations played during Thursday’s session of the court-martial of Edward Novak II, jurors heard the Cannon airman say he repressed memories of the night his wife died, but couldn’t imagine any circumstance in which he’d harm her.

In the first three hours of a four-hour video presented by the prosecution, Edward Novak was shown speaking with agents Thad Payne and Tom Lorang of Cannon’s Office of Special Investigations.

In the May 3, 2005, video, agents repeatedly told Novak everything points to him killing his wife.

“We don’t think this was something you planned, but you caused it,” Payne said. “We’ve searched high and low for another person that could have done this, and it’s not there.”

The prosecution followed with witness testimony portraying the Novaks as having financial troubles, particularly with Kimberly Novak leaving active duty, and hinted Edward Novak might have killed his wife in order to collect on a $250,000 life insurance policy.

Defense lawyers countered the life insurance policy in question was automatic for all military personnel, and that investigators built a case to convict Edward Novak because they had no other suspect when higher-ups in the Office of Special Investigation declared Kim Novak’s death a “must-solve” case.

The day closed with the first hour of an audio recording of a May 10, 2005, interview, in which Novak was brought into his former home to collect things and to see if being back would jar any memories.

In both interrogations, Novak told investigators he wished he could be of more help because he needed closure, but he could only recall brief snapshots of a Wal-Mart trip the family made, him returning the car they borrowed to make that trip, and seeing the look on his wife’s face when he found her in their upstairs bathroom.

“I don’t even remember that day, but I know I couldn’t have done it,” Novak said. “There’s no way.”

Novak said he was not the type of person to harm any women, especially his wife, and he withdraws or shuts down “kind of like a circuit breaker” when he feels his temper rise.

In the fourth hour of the video, agents asked for several different pieces of information, to which a crying Novak repeatedly said, “I don’t know.”

Lorang said the investigation found no evidence of anybody in the house other than the Novaks, and bruises on Kimberly Novak’s body weren’t explained by Edward Novak’s story that the two would often wrestle.

“She didn’t have, ‘Let’s tickle and have fun’ bruises,” Lorang said. “She had large bruises.”

Novak said in each interview he felt frustrated because everybody was telling him they believed he did something he didn’t think was possible.

Novak is charge with first-degree murder and faces life in prison if convicted.

Testimony highlights:
The following witnesses testified Thursday in the court-martial of Edward Novak III:
– Dr. Andrea Leitheiser was working at Cannon as a licensed psychologist and counseled the Novaks in 2004. She said in a July 2004 visit with Edward Novak, he spoke of financial worries with his wife pregnant and about to leave active service. She said Novak was concerned whether he could support the family on his salary.

Leitheiser said the Novaks seemed close when Kimberly Novak was pregnant, but seemed more distant as sessions went on.

– Wayne Wittkopp was a contract employee with the base’s family advocacy division in 2005. He spoke with Edward Novak in a May 20, 2005, interview. In the interview, which Wittkopp described as structured, Novak said his wife was deceased, and later said she had committed suicide.

– Master Sgt. Russell Howard was a weapons flight chief at one time for each of the Novaks, and worked with Edward Novak from February 2004 to February 2005.

During that time, he said he had a few conversations with Novak on his financial situation, and “he had much more outgo(ing) than he had incoming.” Howard said he had two or three others under his command in financial stress, but said none seemed as bad as Novak.

He would often find Novak in the break room 45 minutes to an hour after his shift, and would ask him why he hadn’t gone home yet. Novak, Howard said, usually said he wasn’t ready to go home or didn’t want to.

– Greg Pinckney worked with a contract company that did identifications cards and insurance policies for base members. He completed the application for Kimberly Novak’s ID card identifying her as a spouse after she left active duty. He also completed the servicemember group life insurance application for Kimberly Novak, a $250,000 policy with Edward Novak listed as the beneficiary.

On cross-examination, Pinckney said the amounts in the life insurance policy were standard, and automatic for every military member unless they came in the office specifically to decline coverage.

– Robert C. LoMurro was the unit commander for the Office of Special Investigations at Cannon during the Novak investigation. He said due to the unusual circumstances of Kimberly Novak’s death, his supervisors in OSI deemed the case as “must-solve,” which means all possible resources are dedicated to the case, and he was required to e-mail weekly status reports with plans for the investigation and previous results.

He interviewed Edward Novak during the May 10, 2004, interrogation because he felt other investigators had come to an impasse and perhaps he could gather more information.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Maj. Shawn Vandenberg suggested a sense of urgency in that May 10 interview because it had been more than six months since Kimberly Novak’s death without an arrest.

Although the autopsy was not completed until June, LoMurro said the office worked based on preliminary information the death could not have been an accident.