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Ex-astronaut Nowak may rely on insanity defense

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak may claim at trial she was insane when she stalked and attacked a romantic rival during the unraveling of a love triangle with a fellow ex-astronaut, according to court papers released on Tuesday.

Former astronaut Lisa Nowak during a pre-trial hearing in Orange County Court in Orlando, August 24, 2007. REUTERS/Pool-Red Huber

Nowak claims she is competent to stand trial but that she was suffering from mental disorders when she allegedly armed herself with a knife, pepper spray, a wig and trench coat and raced from Houston to Orlando, Florida to meet Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman’s plane at the airport, the papers said.

Police have said she told them she wore diapers in her car so she wouldn’t have to make as many stops along the way.

Nowak is scheduled to stand trial on September 24 on charges of attempted kidnapping, battery and burglary. Both Shipman and Nowak had been dating then-astronaut Bill Oefelein.

Nowak’s public relations consultant Marti Mackenzie said the court filing was legally required to preserve Nowak’s right to claim insanity if the case gets to trial.

“Even the most naive observer should recognize that Lisa Nowak’s behavior on February 5 was uncharacteristic and unpredicted for such an accomplished person with no criminal record or history of violence,” a statement issued by Mackenzie said.

However, Mackenzie said Nowak’s defense team would continue to pursue her motions to have evidence against her thrown out of court on grounds her constitutional rights were abused during a police interrogation and search of her car.

“The defense will not change course,” said the statement issued by Mackenzie on behalf of Nowak’s lawyer Donald Lykkebak.

Following the alleged attack, NASA fired Oefelein and Nowak. Both had flown on the space shuttle.

Nowak alleges she suffered from psychiatric problems including obsessive compulsive disorder, a partner relational problem, a major depressive disorder leading to weight loss equaling 15 percent of her body mass and a brief psychiatric disorder which produced a mixed manic and depressive-like state.

The court papers also claim she had problems with her primary support group including marital separation, an inability to confide in her family and problems with her social environment, including an inadequate social support system and an inability to confide in social contacts.

Judge Marc Lubet had granted Nowak’s lawyer extra time to enter an insanity defense. According to the court papers, the psychiatric reports were placed under seal at the judge’s order.

Nowak publicly apologized to Shipman last week and said she had been “shocked and overwhelmed” at the media coverage of the case.

Additional reporting by Tom Brown in Miami