Archive for Friday, October 28, 2005

Last man on the moon testifies for defense

October 28, 2005


— Max Ary's wife says the former head of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center wound up with museum artifacts in his Oklahoma home because of a mistake she made.

Jan Ary testified Thursday that she was the one who packed up and moved boxes of artifacts when the couple moved from Kansas to Oklahoma in 2002. She said her husband, the former Cosmosphere president and chief executive accused of stealing and selling museum items, was shocked to discover the artifacts in their Oklahoma City home after former astronaut Eugene Cernan told him he was under investigation.

"He just turned green," she said.

Ary, 55, who left the Hutchinson space museum in May 2002, is on trial in U.S. District Court on 19 counts that include fraud, theft and money laundering.

His wife said the boxes, which were labeled only as containing artifacts, were in her husband's home office in Kansas before the couple moved to Oklahoma City, where her husband could take a job at the Kirkpatrick Science and Air Space Museum at Omniplex. He was replaced last week as executive director.

Jan Ary said the boxes did not indicate they contained Cosmosphere property. She taped them up, loaded them and put them in storage herself because of her husband's back problems - and because he was working and she was not.

"I would not have known what they were," she said.

After discovering what had happened, her husband told her the items were supposed to have been sold in the Cosmosphere's gift shop, she said.

She testified her husband looked ill, and eventually took the boxes to his attorney, who turned them over to authorities after they raided Max Ary's home.

Jan Ary also testified about how disorganized Ary's small home office had been years earlier when he and the Cosmosphere decided to sell some items. He had two separate piles: one with his artifacts and one with the museum's, she said, as he prepared the items for sale.

Jan Ary broke down and cried on the stand as she described how this was going on during a particularly difficult time for the family. While Ary was gone for three weeks working on the recovery of the Liberty Bell 7, his mother became seriously ill and was not expected to live, she said. Jan Ary said she became angry with Ary and moved out of the house briefly after her husband's return. Also, she said, his parents and several other relatives died later that year.

Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, testified earlier Thursday that he personally gave space artifacts to Ary. Cernan said items he provided to the Cosmosphere went there because he was comfortable with Ary and had faith in him.

"Max was the reason I even considered sending some artifacts to the Cosmosphere," Cernan said.

After his testimony, Cernan stopped at the defense table and reassuringly placed his hands on Ary's shoulder.

Cernan, commander of the Apollo 17 flight to the moon in December 1972, was the second former astronaut to testify for Ary, the Cosmosphere's president and chief executive officer. The defense began its case Wednesday, with former astronaut Tom Stafford describing Ary as "completely honest." Former astronaut Charles Duke Jr. had testified for the prosecution earlier in the case, but even he acknowledged he still respected and trusted Ary.


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