September 27, 2013 —
His 13-year-old daughter gave testimony that contradicted the star witness. His fellow paramedics testified that he was a caring professional, and that the star witness was cruel and spiteful. Ultimately, however, the jury believed the star witness and the version of events she provided. The jury found Paul Novak guilty of the murder of his wife on December 13, 2008 in the tiny hamlet of Lava, NY. The verdict was delivered on September 27.
The star witness was Michelle LaFrance, who was Paul’s girlfriend during the time that Paul’s wife, Catherine Novak, was killed. Paul and Catherine were going through a divorce and LaFrance testified that Paul mixed up some chloroform before driving from Long Island to Lava, intending to use it to knock out Catherine. But, LaFrance said, the chloroform didn’t work and Paul had to strangle Catherine instead.
LaFrance said that at one point Catherine said to Paul, “Why are you doing this?” and Paul’s answer was “for the children.” LaFrance said Paul lured Catherine to the basement and that after struggling on the floor for a time, he strangled her.
LaFrance said Paul used one of Catherine’s own hoodies to do the deed. According to LaFrance, Paul then torched the house, and it burned to the ground. He received $800,000 in insurance money for the house and two insurance policies.
The broad outlines of the crime were confirmed by the testimony of Scott Sherwood, Paul’s former paramedic partner who said he went to Paul’s and LaFrance’s home and picked up Paul in 2008 with the specific intention of driving him from Long Island to Lava. On the way, they stopped at Wal-Mart so Paul could buy a plastic bag, and maybe duct tape and a rope.
Elsie Hanlon, who was Sherwood’s girlfriend at the time, and now his wife, also said during testimony that she was aware that Paul had murdered Catherine. Phone records revealed that she tried to reach her boyfriend by phone on December 13, 2008, but couldn’t because Sherwood and Paul had left their phones on Long Island so they could not be traced. Then Hanlon called LaFrance.
When she learned that Catherine had died a few days later, she said she knew that a murder had been committed, but she never went to police because she said on the stand she was protecting Paul and Sherwood.
The fire was intense and left very little evidence about what took place that night, and the trial might never have taken place had LaFrance decided to stay silent. But at the urging of a new boyfriend, in September 2012, LaFrance decided to go to police and set things straight.
According to her testimony, she did so fully believing she would be arrested on the spot for not reporting the incident earlier, and because she knew of Paul’s plan to murder Catherine in advance. Also, she initially lied to authorities and told them Paul was with her when the house burned down. After coming clean, however, she was not charged with a crime.
After LaFrance came forward, authorities contacted Sherwood, who almost immediately pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges.
Now Novak has been found guilty of first and second degree murder, burglary and charges related to insurance fraud. He could be sentenced to life without parole.