Criminal Defense

Astronaut Nowak Claims Insanity

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Former astronaut Lisa Nowak is expected to claim insanity in her trial for attacking a romantic rival with pepper spay in an Orlando parking lot.

A notice made public yesterday states that Nowak has major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive behavior, severe insomnia and Asperger’s syndrome, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Asperger’s makes it difficult to socialize and communicate with others.

One of the experts is Houston psychiatrist Richard Pesikoff, a defense expert for Andrea Yates, a mother acquitted in her retrial for drowning her five children in 2001, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Experts told the Orlando Sentinel that an insanity defense can be difficult absent a documented history of mental illness. “Generally, you argue insanity defense when you don’t have anything else to argue,” said Robert Batey, a law professor at Stetson University in St. Petersburg. “Most people who plead not guilty by reason of insanity lose.”

NASA declined to report on the diagnosis, but a July report by the space agency said Nowak showed no indication of psychiatric problems when she reported for astronaut training in 1996, according to the Chronicle.

“Most people noted that she was very organized and detail oriented,” the report said. “She was focused on the mission, did a great job training and flying, and performed well on-orbit. Some employees mentioned that Nowak could sometimes be demanding and difficult to work with; however, she was viewed as being extremely capable, competent and hardworking.”

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