Doctor called back to testify in Novak case

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — A state forensic pathologist who testified for the prosecution in the first-degree murder trial of Airman Basic Edward Novak II will retake the stand and offer further testimony.

Dr. Russell Alexander is expected to testify Friday morning.

In a hearing Thursday morning outside the presence of the jury, the trial judge ordered Alexander be brought back to court in response to questions from the jury.

“The members have decided that recalling the witness is necessary for them in their deliberations,” said Col. Dawn Eflein, chief trial judge for the Air Force. “We don’t expect our members to make a decision in a factual vacuum. … Another day’s delay in this case is not extreme given the significance to Airman Novak and the government.”

Novak faces life in prison if convicted in the death of his wife, Kimberly Novak, who was found dead Oct. 28, 2004, in the couple’s military housing unit on base.

Jurors, who have deliberated nearly 20 hours since Tuesday, submitted approximately three pages of questions regarding the testimony of Alexander to the court Wednesday night.

Alexander classified the death of Kimberly Novak as a homicide by blunt force trauma to the head and neck with possible strangulation.

The defense presented a polar opposite theory of natural death by a rare viral condition.
The defense, led by Maj. Jeff Palomino, objected to recalling Alexander, stating it believed all the evidence needed for jurors to make a decision had been presented. He also pointed to unnecessary time and money involved in flying witnesses back to Clovis.

Prosecutor Lt. Col. Dan Higgins took the position that his team was put at disadvantage by the defense during the trial.

Higgins said prosecutors had only a few hours to prepare for the testimony of defense forensic pathologist Dr. Harry Bonnell and by the time they realized what he was going to say, Alexander was out of state and unavailable for recall. Because of that, they did not present a rebuttal case, he said.

Bonnell, who reviewed Alexander’s findings for the defense, testified Kimberly Novak died of an infection in the heart which caused sudden cardiac arrest, he said. Bonnell said Alexander, a new pathologist still working under the supervision of a senior doctor at the time, ignored the advice of senior doctors, made mistakes in his findings, and overlooked critical things.

Siding with the prosecution, Eflein said, “I find it interesting the defense has called the government disingenuous when it didn’t even declare its witness until after it knew the government’s witness had left town,” she said.

After her ruling, the defense stated their intention to recall Bonnell to act as a consultant in regards to Alexander’s testimony.

Jurors elected to continue deliberating other aspects of the case today but will withhold verdict pending Friday’s testimony.