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Jury sees 2018 interviews with James Prokopovitz as second week of murder trial begins

Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 6:57 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 22, 2021 at 10:20 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Testimony continued Monday in 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.

On Monday, the judge announced a juror had cold-like symptoms and was in isolation. The court dismissed the juror and announced an alternate would replace the ill juror. The trial started with 12 jurors and 3 alternates -- more alternates than usual because of the chance of COVID-19 affecting the case.

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.) Follow Sarah Thomsen on Twitter for live updates.

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. The defense says Victoria had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts and argues she may have taken her own life.

Prosecutors headed off that line of defense when they continued calling witnesses Monday morning. Sgt. Roman Aronstein of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office said when he first interviewed Mr. Prokovitz, the primary focus was to find a missing person not investigate a crime. The jury heard an audio recording and received a written transcript of Aronstein’s interview with Mr. Prokopovitz.

Prokopovitz said he couldn’t find one of his missing wife’s medications, though it was due for a refill soon. He said she’d been taking four Xanax a day and “thought she should feel a lot better than she should.” He said Victoria attempted suicide by overdosing several years earlier. Asked if he was afraid his wife killed herself, Prokopovitz answered, “I don’t know. I hope to God not. It’s possible.” He said she had not given away any possessions, which is one indication of suicidal thoughts.

Prokopovitz also said his wife didn’t have any transportation, she could only walk anywhere. Aronstein told the court he contacted cab companies with no results. He checked Victoria’s phone and found it “significant” there was no activity for days before her disappearance, and “found it very telling” that her contacts hadn’t spoken to her in years, and some contacts hadn’t spoken to her in over a decade.

Judge William Atkinson is presiding. The trial was not held on Thursday and Friday because original Judge Timothy Hinkfuss broke his ankle and required surgery. The prosecution and defense agreed to reserve judge Atkinson taking over for Hinkfuss.

The trial is scheduled for two weeks.

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.

TESTIMONY DAY 4

There was a lot of big testimony for the jury to take in Monday, much of it medical, and whether Victoria Prokopovitz was suicidal. The defense argued that’s what happened to Victoria, however prosecutors say James killed his wife, and showed the jury two interviews of him, months apart, back in 2018. The videos appeared to show two very different sides of James.

Brown County Sgt. Roman Aronstein is back on the witness stand. He responded to the Prokopovitz home on April 26 and is the lead investigator in the case. He says James Prokopovitz invited him and his partner in the home and they recorded the conversation.

Prosecutors are playing a 47-minute recording between Sgt. Aronstein and James Prokopovitz from April 26, 2013. The first part of the recording is a discussion on the medications Victoria takes. James says he cannot find some of her medications. Aronstein asks: “Is that unusual that you can’t find some medication?”

“Not really,” Prokopovitz says.

They discuss Victoria’s prior suicide attempts and her family. James says Victoria has no relationship with her siblings. He doesn’t know them well.

James is asked what time he went to work that morning of April 26. He says he left his home at about a little after 5 a.m. He worked at Georgia Pacific in Green Bay. He says he got home from work at about 1:30 p.m. and made the missing persons report a short time later. He says the only person he told about Victoria’s disappearance was his stepson, Wes. Wes lived with Victoria and James at the Kunesh Road home.

Prokopovitz describes his wife as a night owl who likes to go for walks, but she always comes home.

James tells the investigators that Victoria has a flip phone. Aronstein says the flip phones have less data than smart phones, but they can see records of incoming and outgoing phone calls.

Investigators ask James if he thinks Victoria killed herself.

“I don’t know. I hope to God not,” James said. “It’s possible.”

An investigator asks, “Is it likely?”

“I don’t know. Things were going good,” James responds.

Aronstein says he took notice of the lack of calls on her phone in the days leading up to her disappearance. James said Victoria had no one to talk to. Aronstein says she had 41 contacts on her phone, some of them businesses. Several of the contacts on Victoria’s phone had not spoken with her for years, Aronstein says.

Aronstein says Victoria had no access to transportation. She did not drive. She had not reached out to any taxi companies prior to her disappearance.

Aronstein testified that Prokopovitz made an odd comment to searchers looking for Victoria. Aronstein says Prokopovitz pointed to the west and identified a quarry about three miles from the home on Kunesh Road. The quarry is associated with McKeefrys, James’ employer. The quarry was full of water and there was an extensive search.

Aronstein says investigators also identified a sludge pond as an area of interest, but were unable to search it.

Aronstein would come back to the stand to finish his testimony, but prosecutors told the court that due to scheduling issues and last week’s delay, they needed to bring Victoria’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ashraf Ahmed, to the stand.

Dr. Ahmed was Victoria Prokopovitz’s psychiatrist, and saw her as a patient more than five years. His testimony is the first real glimpse into Victoria’s state of mind and mental health that jurors have seen so far. He repeatedly describes her as “vulnerable” at appointments throughout the years.

Dr. Ahmed says she had significant childhood trauma and had anxiety, a mood disorder and bi-polar disorder.

Dr. Ahmed testified that when patients have suicidal ideation, the would commit them to a hospital for immediate care. Dr. Ahmed had seen Victoria not long before her disappearance.

Dr. Ahmed says Victoria’s relationship with James was the topic most discussed during there sessions. During a conversation on Feb. 23, 2009, they discussed the “abusive” relationship with James.

Dr. Ahmed read notes from one visit in which Victoria expressed she was “overwhelmed and frustrated.” She said that came from the number of medications she needs to take for paranoia and mood instability. She expressed a sense of isolation and felt the need to be around more people. The doctor says she had no suicidal or homicidal thoughts.

During another visit, Victoria told the doctor that her husband James was controlling and did not want her to see a doctor.

“Her husband is still very critical to her illness. I feel most of her frustration comes from dealing with her illness and dealing with taking numerous medication and the feeling that her husband is controlling. The only thing she struggled with is abusive relationship with her husband,” said Dr. Ashraf of Evansville Psychiatric Associates.

Dr. Ahmed said Victoria’s mood was up during a visit after she had surgery for colon cancer. She denied having suicidal or homicidal thoughts.

During cross examination, James’ attorney asked about a session in which Victoria stated her home was polluted and Dr. Ahmed said she was suffering from a delusional disorder. The doctor stated that she had been diagnosed with a multiple personality disorder years ago and one of those personalities had the name of Lucy. He never witnessed Lucy. Dr. Ahmed says multiple personality disorders are rarely diagnosed now. He believes she received the diagnosis decades ago.

Dr. Ahmed treated Victoria when she suffered an overdose. Ahmed said Victoria downplayed the incident, saying she took too many medications because she was upset. She did not say it was a suicide attempt, rather she was frustrated and confused and trying to reduce her anxiety.

Victoria complained about an “abusive” husband. Dr. Ahmed described her as having a borderline personality disorder. She suffered abuse as a child and was drawn to abusive relationships as an adult, Dr. Ahmed said.

Dr. Ahmed said he never noticed injuries as signs of physical abuse.

Victoria said James was dismissive of her mental and physical health problems and controlling over money and medication.

During an April 2010 session, Victoria was thinking about suicide, according to the doctor. He said she did not have a method, but it was along the lines of “I wish I was dead.” Dr. Ahmed said suicide had been on her mind since she was young and thoughts are provoked by trauma.

During a June 2010 session, Victoria still feels overwhelmed and depressed. The doctor’s notes say she’s unhappy with the rest of the world, isolated and does not feel her husband is supportive.

In August 2011, she expressed feelings about the accident in which her son Wes was severely burned. Wes was close to her emotionally. She was unhappy that he was “stuck in life” and seemed to have no purpose. She expressed a feeling of guilt, believing she she could have done more to help him.

In September 2011, she tells the doctor she can’t keep track of her medications and believes she’s taking too many. Dr. Ahmed disagreed.

She also reported losing her medications.

Their last meeting was July 2012, about nine months before her disappearance. The doctor reported that Victoria was doing well at that time. The defense noted Victoria’s history of ups and downs. Dr. Ahmed said it would be impossible for him to know her mindset at the time of her disappearance.

“You don’t know if she was in a good or bad state when she went missing on April 26th?” asked D’Angelo.

“That was many months after I left,” said Dr. Ahmed.

“It’s uncertain to say what mental state she was in in the night she went missing,” said D’Angelo.

“Oh, absolutely not. I would never be able to predict that,” said Dr. Ahmed.

Dr. Ahmed testified that he never saw Victoria to the point of taking her life. That’s why he never had her committed.

Afterwards, a witness took the stand that the court said Action 2 News wasn’t allowed to record, or disclose any details about. Our cameras were turned off by court order, to ensure the witness testifying Monday afternoon couldn’t be identified in any way out of what prosecutors called safety concerns. However, we were allowed to sit in the courtroom and listen.

The person, known as “Witness Number One” told jurors they had a conversation with James Prokopovitz in 2019, and he told the witness he was “100% sure his wife was dead and her body wouldn’t be found.”

The witness testified Prokopovitz told this person about Kathy Friday, called her his girlfriend, and asked the witness to call her for him, despite a court order saying he was to have no contact with Friday.

Witness Number One told jurors they came forward because “it was the right thing to do.”

During cross examination, defense attorneys asked “He never told you how he did it?”

The witness said “no.”

The defense attorney then asked if it could be assumed Victoria is dead since she hasn’t been found for six years.

That testimony comes after jurors hear and see from Prokopovitz himself - in both audio and video recordings - captured the day Victoria was reported missing, and three months later.

Afterwards, a retired deputy, Tim Newtols, gave his testimony about searching for Victoria. He was followed by Heidi Thaves of the Shawano Police Department and Chuch Keuhn, who also helped search the water for human remains.

More witnesses are scheduled to be called to the stand by the prosecution Tuesday morning.

Find links to previous trial coverage below the video

TRIAL COVERAGE

NEW JUDGE ASSIGNMENT: https://www.wbay.com/2021/02/19/hearing-friday-to-finalize-reserve-judge-in-missing-woman-murder-trial/

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/

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