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New judge assigned to missing-woman murder trial

Judge at James Prokopovitz murder trial
Judge at James Prokopovitz murder trial
Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 9:46 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 19, 2021 at 1:55 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A new judge will hear the remainder of James Prokopovitz’s murder trial in Brown County.

A hearing was held Friday afternoon to finalize the appointment of Circuit Court Judge William Atkinson to hear the remainder of the trial for a man accused of killing his wife who went missing 8 years ago.

Paperwork was filed Thursday for Atkinson to oversee the trial after Judge Timothy Hinkfuss broke his ankle after leaving work on Wednesday. Hinkfuss requires surgery, creating uncertainty when he would be available to take the bench and continue the trial.

Court documents obtained by Action 2 News show the defense and prosecution consented to Atkinson hearing the remainder of the case. They verbalized that consent during the hearing, and the judge specifically asked Prokopovitz if his defense attorney explained that he has the right to request a mistrial. Prokopovitz said he understood.

The trial was scheduled for two weeks. The trial was placed on hold Thursday and Friday after Judge Hinkfuss’s injury. Testimony is scheduled to resume Monday. Judge Atkinson said he received a rough draft of the testimony so far and will work through the weekend to get up to speed before 8:30 Monday morning.

The prosecution is still calling witnesses. At Friday’s hearing, prosecutors expressed concerns that it will be difficult getting some of their witnesses because of the delay. The state explained some of the witnesses have to travel and made plans around the original schedule. Judge Atkinson said the court will accommodate them when they’re available.

Prosecutors also said one witness they’ll call Monday absolutely cannot be identified. Judge Atkinson ordered the media to turn off all cameras and audio when that person is testifying, and he extended the blackout to any time that person is in the courtroom and may appear in video or photographs.

Despite the delay, prosecutors believe they can wrap up testimony next week, then the defense can call its witnesses.

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.

Testimony so far in the case has been very detailed and covered several topics, from searches to sludge ponds, James’s demeanor and work history, and emotional testimony from Victoria’s children.

Action 2 News is livestreaming the trial. You can watch here: https://www.wbay.com/livestream3/ (NOTE: We may break away for other news coverage.)

DAY 3 TESTIMONY: https://www.wbay.com/2021/02/17/more-witnesses-to-be-called-on-day-3-of-missing-woman-murder-trial/

DAY 2 TESTIMONY: https://www.wbay.com/2021/02/16/watch-live-more-witness-testimony-set-for-day-2-of-missing-woman-murder-trial/

DAY 1 TESTIMONY AND OPENING STATEMENTS: https://www.wbay.com/2021/02/15/opening-statements-monday-in-brown-county-missing-woman-homicide-trial/

THE INVESTIGATION

Victoria Prokopovitz disappeared on April 25, 2013. Her body has never been located. Her last known location was the Prokopovitz home in a rural area of Kunesh Road in the Town of Pittsfield.

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 Prokopovtiz 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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