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Missing woman’s son, daughter testify during Day 2 of murder trial

Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 8:30 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - More witnesses are taking the stand on the second day of the missing woman murder trial in Brown County.

James Prokopovitz, 75, is standing trial on charges of 1st Degree Intentional Homicide, Resisting or Obstructing and Perjury. Prosecutors say Prokopovitz killed his wife, Victoria, in 2013. Victoria’s body has never been located. She disappeared from the Prokopovitz home in a rural area of Kunesh Road in the Town of Pittsfield.

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.

Action 2 News plans to livestream the two-week trial. You can watch here: https://www.wbay.com/livestream3/ (NOTE: We may have to break away for other news coverage if necessary.)

Prosecutors argue that James Prokopovitz killed Victoria and had motive. They say he had access to a sludge pond containing industrial chemicals that would decompose a body.

James Prokopovitz’s attorney, John D’Angelo, told the jury that this is a missing person’s case. D’Angelo said Victoria had mental health issues, including a multiple personality disorder and depression. He told jurors they would hear about at least two suicide attempts.

CLICK HERE for coverage of opening statements and day one of witness testimony.

DAY 2 TESTIMONY

Wesley Edges is the first person to take the stand Tuesday. He’s Victoria Prokopovitz’s biological son and the stepson of James Prokopovitz. Wesley was living with James and Vicky at the time of his mother’s disappearance.

“She was my best friend as well as my mother,” Edges said.

Wesley testified that he also had a good relationship with James and called him “dad.”

Edges testified about a 2002 incident in when he found Victoria during an apparent suicide attempt. He found his mother on the floor and pills on the floor. Wesley says she was in the process of writing a suicide note.

In summer of 2012, Victoria had surgery for colon cancer and a colostomy bag. Wesley testified that his mother thought it was humiliating. She later has surgery to reverse the colostomy bag procedure. Wesley says his mother had some issues with falling and used a cane. He says she didn’t leave the home often. She was no longer driving and no longer had a car. Wesley that James drove his mother to doctor’s appointments. Edges said James controlled the money in the house and his mother’s medications.

Hours prior to her disappearance, James and Victoria drove to a doctor’s appointment. Wesley described her in good spirits at that time.

“She was in the best spirits I’d seen her in in probably a month. She was very well dressed. She was wearing makeup. She had her hair done. She in very good spirits,” said Edges.

On day of Victoria’s disappearance, Wesley had dinner with James and Vicky at their Kunesh Road home. He said the three of them ate dinner around the kitchen table. Wesley said his mother and James had an argument. Victoria had allegedly asked James to go to a dollar store to get a tablecloth. James did not want to go to the dollar store that night, according to Wesley. That was frustrating for Victoria, Wesley says.

Wesley says he left the Kunesh Road home between 6-6:30 p.m. Wesley says that’s the last time he saw his mother.

Wesley left the Kunesh Road home after dinner to visit some friends and help them with a computer. He says he stayed there until about midnight and then met up with another friend. [Initially, James failed to tell authorities about this second meeting. He says he was buying marijuana and didn’t want to get his friend in trouble.] At about 4 a.m., he stopped at a Kwik Trip to get some donuts. Wesley says that was his last stop before going back to the Kunesh Road home.

As he approached the driveway, Wesley saw James Prokopovitz pull in ahead of him. Wesley testifies that James was alone in the vehicle. Wesley says James approached him and said, “Mom’s gone.”

Wesley asked, “What do you mean she’s gone?”

According to testimony, James replied, “I woke up, she’s not here.”

James told Wesley that he was out looking for Victoria and would continue to do so. Wesley said he decided to stay home to wait for Victoria. Wesley said he asked James about calling the police, and James said he planned on calling. Wesley does not believe James called authorities at that time.

Wesley says James left in his vehicle, and returned to the home within about 15 minutes. James Prokopovitz had previously told authorities that he and Wesley had been out searching together.

Wesley says it was not normal for Victoria to leave her home for long periods of time. Wesley testified that Victoria had not been taking long walks and was not mobile due to her health issues. The defense has said that Victoria was known to take walks at night, but Wesley said that she was not capable of taking those walks at the time of her disappearance.

Wesley testifies that he goes up to his room and hears James come home. He says he hears James leave for work at about 5 a.m. James returns later that day. Victoria is still missing.

Wesley says he remembers talking with the deputy who was first to arrive at the missing persons report.

Wesley says he never took part in searches for his mother because it was emotionally “too hard for him.” Wesley says he was happy that his sisters, Marsha and Stacey, had organized searches for Victoria.

Wesley confirms that he has not seen or heard from his mother since the date of her disappearance.

Wesley recalls that Victoria, a heavy smoker, left behind her cigarettes. He remembered that Victoria rarely left a room without her cigarettes. Wesley says his mother would not have left home without her purse.

After Victoria’s disappearance, Wesley says he grows distant from James. He says James started dating Kathy Friday. James and Wesley are still living together at the Kunesh Road home until they both move out.

Wesley testifies that a search team refused to return to the Kunesh Road property “because of the way he [James] was acting.”

Investigators have been able to confirm Wesley’s alibi for the time of Victoria’s disappearance. Photos on his phone have timestamps matching the timeline of his testimony for the night of Victoria’s disappearance.

After a morning break, the defense started cross examination. He testifies that James treated Victoria’s kids like they were his own. The defense asks Wesley about his mother’s mental health struggles dating back to when he was young. She had good and bad days.

The defense continues with questions about Victoria’s two previous suicide attempts.

Wesley testifies that he does not believe his mother was suicidal in the lead up to her disappearance.

The defense pushes back on Wesley’s timeline for the night and early morning hours of Victoria’s disappearance. Surveillances shows Wesley Edges buying gas and donuts at a Kwik Trip at Shawano and Taylor in Green Bay at about 4:08 a.m. Defense attorney John D’Angelo says that means Wesley would have arrived home to Kunesh Road in Pittsfield later than 4 a.m. Wesley told the state that he arrived home at about 4 a.m.

Wesley again testifies that his mother was not outwardly struggling with depression in the days before her disappearance. Wesley says the last time she was depressed was in 2012 when she learned she had colon cancer.

Wesley says after her mother had her colostomy bag removed, she used her cane less and less. He testifies that she was not using the cane on the day of her disappearance.

Wesley testifies that his mother was a night owl and she didn’t sleep well due to her health and medications. He says she would go outside at night sometimes, but not for long periods. He recalled hearing the vacuum and television going at night.

Wesley admits to smoking marijuana before he returned home to Kunesh Road. The defense asks if that may have altered his ability to recall his specific timeline of events.

Both sides rest. The next witness is Michael Schuh, Vice President at McKeefrys. James Prokopovitz was working for the company during Victoria’s disappearance.

Schuh describes the job as hauling ash and sludge from paper waste to a sludge pond across from Austin Straubel International Airport. James Prokopovitz loaded trucks for McKeefrys.

McKeefrys owns stone quarries and sand pits. Schuh testified that employees had access to quarries, but he was unaware of people visiting them after hours.

Schuh testified that he could not remember James taking time off from work in the days after Victoria’s disappearance. On April 26, Prokopovitz’s time sheet showed he worked 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Schuh says he spoke to Prokopovitz during that time, but James never told him that Victoria was missing.

Schuh testifies that Prokopovitz rented the Kunesh Road property from Schuh’s father. When Prokopovitz moved out, he left a lot of things behind, according to Schuh. Schuh could not say positively if Prokopovitz had left the home before Wesley Edges.

The defense was next with cross examination. D’Angelo asks Schuh if he had a personal relationship with James. Schuh says it was a working relationship, and they did not discuss personal things. Schuh says James never talked about his wife’s mental health issues with him. He had heard stories from other people.

Schuh says Prokopovitz did not behave differently that usual in the days after Victoria’s disappearance.

Schuh says he learned learned of Victoria’s disappearance on the Sunday after she went missing. He said he was surprised. He had conversations with James and James never mentioned it.

The next witness is Victoria Prokopovitz’s eldest daughter Marsha Loritz. Loritz is an advocate for families of missing persons. She’s taken part in several searches, and organized search and rescue teams. She confirms searches have been done with dogs and on horseback. Marsh says searchers used sonar and helicopters. She passed out missing persons fliers across the area. Marsha holds missing persons awareness events.

“It has been terrible,” said Loritz. “I stuck living for a long time and every day did something to get the word out about my mom missing.”

Loritz recalls her mother’s documented struggles with mental health. Marsha says her mother sought help from psychiatrists and doctors. Marsha testifies that she heard in 1992 that her mother had been diagnosed with a multiple personality disorder.

As a teen, Marsha discovered her mother attempting suicide in a running car in the garage. Marsha says she and her sister, Stacey, convinced her mother to get out of the garage.

Loritz also testified about an incident in November of 2012- six months before Victoria vanished - saying while she was on the way to the Prokopovitz home, James called her and said she wasn’t feeling well, and not to come. When she arrived, she found her mother on her bed. She described her mother as “limp.” Marsha said Victoria had dried blood on her shirt.

Marsha described James as “frazzled” and “agitated.” Marsha said she wanted to call an ambulance, but James discouraged it.

“I knew there was something wrong because she didn’t even respond, she didn’t open her eyes, she didn’t roll your eyes, she did nothing. And I’m like we need to take her to the hospital. You need to call the ambulance and he said, no, no, no, we can’t call the ambulance.”

Wendy then asked Marsha if in hindsight, do you wish you would have called somebody.

“Yes,” said Marsha.

She spent hours telling jurors about her mother, and how shocked she was when she went missing.

On April 26, 2013, Marsha Loritz received a call from her sister, Stacey, informing her that Victoria was missing.

Marsha say she called James Prokopovitz.

Marsha’s testimony:

“She’s gone,” James said.

Marsha replies, “What do you mean, ‘she’s gone’?”

“She’s finally done it,” James replied.

Marsha recalled when investigators brought dogs to search three days after her mother disappeared.

Her testimony:

Wendy: “What was Jim doing?”

Marsha: “We arrived there at 7 a.m. and the first thing he did was he cracked a beer.”

Marsha says they found her mom’s purse, her dentures and her cigarettes. She says her mother would not have left home without these things.

She later went on to say that her stomach told her something wasn’t right.

Later on, she went on to say James wouldn’t have ever married her mother if he had known Kathy Friday, the woman he started dating after her mother’s disappearance, was divorced.

A short courtroom break followed soon after.

Soon after the break, the defense began cross examining Loritz, specifically asking why she didn’t call 911 during the 2012 incident noted above.

Her testimony:

D’Angelo: “But you said it frightened you. I think you testified that you said that incident frightened me.”

Marsha: “It did.”

D’Angelo: “It frightened you to the point that you left.”

Marsha: “i left because he told me that if she didnt’ wake up, we would call the ambulance.”

She then continued on to cite notes she had taken with quotes from Prokopovitz, and how he seemed to be more concerned with moving on from her mother.

Jurors also started learning more about James Prokopovitz’s relationship with Kathy Friday, with Loritz testifying James told her if he’d known Kathy Friday was divorced, he never would’ve married her mother.

“There was a day that we sat at the table and he was telling us how much money he was saving because the lights weren’t on all the time. And that he had dropped her off his medical insurance. And then that was when he also shared with us that he had a lady friend,” said Loritz.

After establishing Prokopovitz was a loving father and accepted Victoria’s kids as his own, the defense team focused on Victoria’s history of mental health and her two prior suicide attempts, and asked if she gave any indication that she was suicidal before them.

Loritz said no.

At the end of her testimony, Loritz told jurors she had been documenting comments James made that made her feel uncomfortable. Testimony will begin again at 8:30 Wednesday morning.

THE INVESTIGATION

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.

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