Jury selected for Prokopovitz, accused of killing missing wife
BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A long-awaited murder trial is now set to begin in Brown County for what started as a missing persons case nearly 8 years ago.
We’ve been following the disappearance of Victoria Prokopovitz since 2013 when the wife and mother vanished from her Pittsfield home, leaving behind her purse ,phone and keys.
Her husband, James Prokopovitz, 75, is now going on trial for 1st Degree Intentional Homicide, Resisting or Obstructing and Perjury, and we’re still learning new details about the case.
Jury selection started at 8:30 Friday morning to choose 12 jurors and 3 alternates -- more alternates than usual in case COVID-19 affects anyone. Nine women and 6 men will hear arguments Mr. Prokopovitz murdered his wife in 2013, obstructed the investigation, and then lied.
Friday we learned Mr. Prokopovitz now faces six charges. Two more counts of perjury were added to his list this week. Prosecutors say he lied under oath during a secret John Doe hearing in 2019.
Prosecutors allege even though Mrs. Prokopovitz’s body has never been found, her husband killed her, had access to a sludge pond containing industrial chemicals that would decompose a body, and he had motive to do it.
Court documents indicate prosecutors will lay out several motives: Arguing financial troubles; that James blamed Victoria for medical bills; that he was abusive and controlling; and that he had a girlfriend, Kathy Friday.
Prosecutors say Mr. Prokopovitz later told police he lied during the investigation to protect his relationship with Friday.
Friday died by suicide last year before her sentencing on perjury and obstruction charges.
The defense has long maintained Mrs. Prokopovitz didn’t want to be found and simply disappeared on her own or died by suicide.
More than 70 people are on witness lists to potentially be called to testify, including dozens of investigators from local and state agencies, relatives of both James and Victoria, her doctors, James’s ex-wife, and informants when James was housed in jail.
Opening statements will begin Monday morning. The trial is scheduled for two weeks.
Action 2 News investigator Sarah Thomsen has been following this case for eight years and will have coverage throughout the trial.
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On April 25, 2013, Victoria Prokopovitz disappeared from the Pittsfield home she shared with her husband, James.
The next day, James Prokopovitz called the Brown County Sheriff’s Office to report his wife missing. He told them that she suffered from depression and he was afraid that she had taken her own life somewhere near the home. James told investigators that he saw his wife at 10 p.m. the night before. He said that’s the time he went to bed.
James Prokopvotiz said once he believed her to be missing, he “panicked” and went out searching for his wife. He said Victoria had left behind her cell phone, cigarettes, purse and identification.
James Prokopovitz went to work that day, April 26, but never told his co-workers that his wife was missing, according to a criminal complaint. Co-workers said he acted no differently than usual.
The Prokopovitz house is located on a rural farm property with numerous outbuildings. A K-9 searched the property to no avail. There were no shoe prints in the soil, meaning Victoria could not have walked from her home the night of her disappearance.
Family and friends have said James never helped in the searches for Victoria and “became hostile at times.”
Victoria’s daughter, Marsha, recalled a time that James said of Victoria, “She is dead. She is nowhere around here. She is never coming back.”
Family members told investigators about their increasing suspicion that James Prokopovitz was involved in their mother’s disappearance. James continued to make comments that Victoria was gone and they were “wasting their time” searching for her.
Just weeks after Victoria disappeared, James announced that he had started a romantic relationship with an old girlfriend named Kathy Friday. Investigators wondered if the relationship was part of the motive behind Victoria’s disappearance. One witness said James had told Kathy that he knew his wife was dead. A witness said Kathy got a second phone for the purpose of communicating with James.
Records found that James and Victoria had some financial issues, including unpaid medical bills and a foreclosure. Investigators found that James had taken Victoria off his family medical and dental insurance on August 28, 2013--a few months after Victoria went missing. He converted his insurance from family to individual.
James admitted that he had access to a sludge pond between his home and his place of work. The sludge pond contains industrial waste and “products that are “unstable” in nature. It would be very hard to search.
During a John Doe hearing, James Prokopovitz said that he didn’t know where Victoria’s body was and “if I could s--t my wife’s body out in order to protect Kathy [Friday], I would.”
Prokopovitz initially said he went to sleep at about 10 p.m. on the night Victoria disappeared. However, his bed was “meticulously made and did not appear slept in,” according to investigators. During the John Doe hearing, he changed his story and said he had slept in his recliner in the living room.
Investigators questioned James about the route he said he took during his panicked search for Victoria. Surveillance video from a gas station on his search route did not show James’ vehicle passing during that time.
James also claimed he had made several calls to Victoria’s phone after her disappearance. Phone records show that didn’t happen.
James’ claims that Victoria had tried several times to take her own life were not documented or validated by the investigation.
After the John Doe hearing, Prokopovitz was taken to the Brown County Sheriff’s Office for an interview. That’s when he said that he had lied under oath, and had been lying for years.
He said he was trying to protect his relationship with Kathy Friday.
“I did not kill my wife Vicki but I did lie to the police for years in connection with the investigation surrounding her disappearance. Ultimately, I lied in court today as well while I was under oath. I understand that lying to the police and the court was the wrong and illegal thing to do but I did not kill my wife. I lied because Kathy and I were trying to keep our stories straight.”
James also walked back a prior confession to killing Victoria. “When I told Sgt. Aronstein during the interview that I killed her, that was only due to my desperation as I did not kill her ... I did not dispose of my wife in the sludge ponds.”
Over the years, there has been no trace of Victoria Prokopovitz suggesting she would be living another life in another location. She has filled no prescriptions. She has not traveled outside of the country. She has not checked into any hospitals or mental health facilities. She has not accessed her bank account.
Victoria was known to have a bad leg, and it was “unlikely she would have been physically able to walk very far from” her home, investigators say.
Victoria Prokopovitz has never been found.
Following the John Doe hearing and interview, James Prokopovitz and Kathy Friday were taken into custody.
Kathy Friday was charged with Perjury, but passed away before the case was concluded. The charges were dismissed.
MISSING PERSONS AWARENESS
Each April, Victoria’s daughter, Marsha Loritz, coordinates a missing persons awareness event. The goal is to honor Victoria and to recognize and offer support to the missing and their families.
Events include child ID kits, internet safety lessons, guest speakers, search and rescue teams, raffles and silent auctions.
MORE ON WISCONSIN MISSING PERSONS ADVOCACY: https://www.wimissing.org/marshaloritz
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