Prokopovitz jury breaks for the night after asking to review evidence
GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The fate of a Brown County man charged with killing his wife in 2013 is now in the hands of a jury. Jurors deliberated for about 11 hours on Friday, and they’ll be back at 8:30 Saturday morning after asking the judge to let them go home after a 12-hour day at the courthouse.
James Prokopovitz, 75, is charged with 1st Degree Intentional Homicide and Resisting or Obstructing, whose wife disappeared and was never found. He’s also charged with Perjury for lying under oath during the investigation.
Friday afternoon, the jury came back into the courtroom to review videos of interviews with Prokopovitz, including one where he takes investigators on the routes he says he drove looking for his wife after she disappeared from their home.
Action 2 News will livestream the trial when court is in session and, of course, when a verdict is reached. You can watch the livestream at https://www.wbay.com/livestream3/
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Victoria disappeared from the Propokovitz home in a rural area in the town of Pittsfield on April 25, 2013. Prosecutors believe James disposed of her body in a sludge pond he had access to as part of his job loading paper waste onto trucks for a landfill.
After about two hours of deliberation, the jurors sent a request to the judge for a “list of evidence that was admitted and taken out.” The judge provided the list to the bailiff to deliver to the jury.
At about 12:50 p.m., the jury asked for several exhibits, including video, forensic phone records reports, a letter from James’ girlfriend, and maps of sludge ponds.
State law says any video or audio recordings the jury asks for during deliberations have to be seen or heard in their entirety in the courtroom. That took up a big part of the afternoon after jurors requested two records -- the first recorded at the Brown County Sheriff’s Office in 2013, three months after Victoria disappeared and the second recorded in the summer of 2016 when investigators went to Prokopovitz’s home where he walks them around the house, telling them what he did the night Victoria disappeared and how he says he looked for her.
On that second video, Prokopovitz drove investigators on a route he says he took the night his wife disappeared. An investigator testified he looked at hours of surveillance video and never saw Prokopovitz’s truck on that route on that night.
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On Friday, the defense delivered closing arguments and the prosecution gave a rebuttal. Defense attorney John D’Angelo said, “Somebody goes for a walk with a purpose. Let’s talk about Victoria herself. She’s had multiple suicide attempts.... She said in 2003, ‘Next time I do it, no one’s going to find me.’ She meant it. She had 10 years to pull this off, to think about it, to contemplate it.”
The defense has focused on Victoria’s history with mental illness and previous suicide attempts. They argue Victoria took her own life. They say she left her purse and personal items behind because she did not want to be identified or found. During closing arguments, they said the state failed to prove their case and presented no evidence that James killed Victoria.
Defense attorney John D’Angelo says no one knows if Victoria is alive or dead. “Vicki had a plan and she executed it. Whether it was to commit suicide or just disappear, we don’t know.”
The defense says Victoria relied on James and he took care of her.
“‘Next time nobody will find me.’ Those are the words of Victoria Prokopovitz,” says D’Angelo. “You’ve listened to the state basically direct their witnesses to their answers. But no words ring more true than ‘next time nobody will find me.’”
D’Angelo says, “The State is trying to convince you through emotion that my client is guilty. This is not a court of emotion. This is a court of law.”
D’Angelo dismissed prosecution theories that James may have strangled Victoria or drugged her and disposed of her body in a sludge pond. D’Angelo says searches of James’s truck turned up no evidence of Victoria Prokopovitz.
D’Angelo also takes aim at confidential witnesses, saying they cannot be believed.
The defense called no witnesses. “The state took two weeks to prove nothing,” D’Angelo says.
After about 30 minutes, the defense wrapped its argument and the prosecution was given time for rebuttal.
Assistant District Attorney Wendy Lemkuil says James killed and hid Victoria. She said James had six hours to clean up before involving police in his wife’s disappearance.
“This case is unique for not having a body, but not unusual,” says Lemkuil.
“Victoria could have never killed herself and covered her up. We would have found her,” Lemkuil says.
The prosecution called 43 witnesses over seven days of testimony. On Thursday, Lemkuil recapped that testimony during their closing arguments to the jury.
The prosecution said this case is about lies and an obsessive relationship Prokopovitz had with girlfriend Kathy Friday, giving him reason not to have Victoria in his life anymore. Lemkuil said this is a case to her but it’s a tragedy for two families. She told jurors, “2,864 days. That’s how many days have gone by since Victoria Prokopovitz was missing.”
“The truth is in the lies,” Lemkuil said.
“The biodegradable nature of what’s going into these sludge ponds,” Lemkuil said, “why they can’t be dredged, and why the substances in there would be such that if someone went in it, it wasn’t coming out.”
“There is more evidence. It’s the fact that Kathy Friday and Jim Prokopovitz took it upon themselves because they knew they had something to hide,” Lemkuil said. “Jim was ready to move on, and that’s exactly what he did.”
Prosecutors called statements from Prokopovitz’s first wife about a history of abuse and that James told her she could never leave him similar to testimony from a confidential witness talking about Victoria.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, gets you to intent, because if it was anything other than intentional, people come forward,” the prosecutor argued, “but if you kill somebody and get rid of their body, that’s intentional. That’s the only thing a ‘no body’ homicide can be.”
Judge William Atkinson instructed the jury of their duties before sending them to deliberations. The judge said a verdict must be reached unanimously.
Jurors are voting on four counts: 1st Degree Intentional Homicide with a domestic abuse modifier, Resisting or Obstructing an Officer, Conspiracy to Commit Perjury Before a Court, and Perjury Before a Court.
DAY 7 TESTIMONY AND PROSECUTION CLOSING ARGUMENTS: https://www.wbay.com/2021/02/25/more-witnesses-to-take-the-stand-in-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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