Ex-girlfriend details murder-arson plot
Story by Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO August 16, 2013 Tuesday, day two of the Paul Novak murder trial, saw one of the prosecution’s prime witnesses, his ex-girlfriend Michelle LaFrance, take the stand.
When District Attorney James Farrell announced LaFrance as his next witness, a seemingly incredulous defense attorney Gary Greenwald would quickly request an adjournment, claiming he was “not ready” for the witness.
Taking an apparent jab at the DA for the non-disclosure, Greenwald added, “I don’t want to suggest that this is suspect [on the part of the prosecution]… I wouldn’t have done it that way.”
Addressing Sullivan County Court Judge Frank LaBuda, Greenwald said, “If they have no one else to put on the stand… you granted me right of an adjournment… and now I need it.”
For his part, LaBuda felt the defense’s motion was a bit rushed: “I think this application is premature,” he said.
“I do know your honor, that I want an adjournment… I don’t even have my file here,” responded Greenwald. “I am not prepared for this witness, nor am I ready for Mr. Sherwood [the defendant’s former friend and co-worker Scott Sherwood], I need more time.”
LaBuda would later grudgingly grant the defense motion, but allowed LaFrance to take the stand on Tuesday and move forward with the day’s testimony.
LaFrance, 31, related how she and the defendant first met while she was completing the clinical, hands-on portion of her paramedic certification at Jamaica Hospital on Queens. She detailed Novak’s plan to “knock out” his estranged with a hand-mixed concoction he believed to be chloroform.
LaFrance offered intimate detail on the alleged plot up to Novak’s painstaking measures to avoid detection; things like leaving his cellphone behind at the couple’s Long Island home, and enlisting his friend and co-worker at the time, Scott Sherwood, to drive him upstate in his truck so that Novak’s vehicle could not be traced through toll booths, tying the vehicle to the alleged murder plot.
LaFrance further detailed how a week before the killing, Novak visited the western Sullivan County home to “clear” the basement of some belongings his estranged wife had allegedly asked him to remove from the home. During the visit LaFrance alleged that Novak “sneaked over” to unlock a set of doors for future entry into the home as part of his alleged plot.
A portion of LaFrance’s seven hour video taped April, 2012 statement to New York State Police investigators in Liberty was played to the jury. The video would prove to be the catalyst for Novak’s eventual arrest.
LaFrance claimed that Novak began plotting his wife’s murder back in November 2008 amidst a bitter divorce battle.
“He had me convinced that we were doing the right thing. As sick as it sounds we were going to save [Novak’s two children],” she said.”
Novak’s former girlfriend also outlined the change in Novak’s character from what she called “a mentor,” into an abuser who pushed her into a “swinger” lifestyle.
When Farrell asked LaFrance why Novak had mixed what he believed to be the ingredients for chloroform, LaFrance offered deadpan, “Because he was going to use it on Catherine.
“He told me he was going to use it to knock her out, and he was going to set the house on fire so she would die from carbon monoxide poisoning and it would look like an accident,” she added.
LaFrance’s timeline of events saw Novak and Sherwood leaving the couple’s Glen Cove apartment at approximately 11 p.m. in Sherwood’s girlfriend’s truck.
They returned by 7 a.m. the following morning.
As to why Novak was delayed in arriving back in Long Island, LaFrance claimed, “He said he was late because the chloroform didn’t work and he had to struggle with Catherine.”
This was a struggle LaFrance unbelievably claims Novak told her lasted up to 45 minutes.
Additionally claiming that Novak told her “it was done,” when Farrell asked her if she knew what the cryptic statement meant, LaFrance answered, “Yes… Catherine was dead.”
Shockingly, LaFrance also alleged that Novak told her that after strangling his wife with her own “hoodie,” he waited over her dying body while she “gasped reflexively” until he was certain she had ceased breathing. According to LaFrance, Novak then fetched a blowtorch from the garage and set some curtains in the home on fire, also waiting until he was satisfied with the conflagration before, she said, “he then walked away.”
Yesterday’s testimony included more portions of LaFrance’s videotaped statement to investigators, and more details on the alleged “swinger lifestyle” that Novak would, through a swingers website called adultfriendfinder.com, involve her in soon after the couple moved to the state of Florida. He arranged for strange men to come to the couple’s home to have sex with her as he watched and sometimes even videotaped the sexual encounters.
LaFrance then admitted to having an affair with an older, married gentleman. She would describe the infidelity as “an emotional affair.”
Sullivan County Fire Investigator Art Hawker would take the stand as the prosecution’s third witness after Farrell concludes his direct questioning of LaFrance. Hawker was able to just about get through describing his credentials before court was adjourned at about 12:30 p.m. for the rest of the week.
The trial will resume Monday with Greenwald expected to begin his cross examination of LaFrance.