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2016 interview and secret witness testify Wednesday during Prokopovitz jury trial

Published: Feb. 24, 2021 at 6:56 AM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The prosecution is calling more witnesses to the stand on Day 6 of testimony 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.

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. Court begins at 8:30 a.m.

Prosecutors say Prokopovitz killed his wife, Victoria. Her body has never been located. On April 25, 2013, Victoria disappeared from the Prokopovitz home in a rural area of Kunesh Road in the Town of Pittsfield. The prosecution states James had access to sludge ponds through his job loading paper waste for disposal at a landfill and those ponds would be a place to dispose of a body. The defense maintains Victoria had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts and argues she may have taken her own life.

We’ve heard testimony from Victoria’s daughters, her friends and her psychiatrist. We’ve also heard from James Prokopovitz’s co-workers regarding the sludge ponds and James’ demeanor after Victoria went missing.

The prosecution played a taped interview with a private investigator highlighting inconsistencies in his story.

On Tuesday, we heard emotional testimony from the daughter of a woman James dated after Victoria’s disappearance. Kathy Friday was charged with perjury for lying to investigators during a John Doe hearing. She took her own life and charges were dismissed.

DAY 5 TESTIMONY: https://www.wbay.com/2021/02/23/testimony-continues-tuesday-in-missing-woman-murder-trial/

DAY 4 TESTIMONY: https://www.wbay.com/2021/02/22/testimony-continues-monday-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/

DAY 6 TESTIMONY

James Prokopovitz’s daughter, Lisa Mastey, was the first to take the witness stand Wednesday. She’s James’ daughter from his first wife, Darlene. Lisa said Victoria would babysit her children and they maintained a relationship throughout the years.

James did not tell his daughter about Victoria’s disappearance. When she found out, she went over to the house to help with the search. Lisa says her father did not help with searching. She says her father was drinking--not fall down drunk but “had enough.”

Lisa says medical bills were a burden on James and Victoria. Victoria had colon cancer and mental health issues.

Lisa says her father made the comment, “The electric bill got much smaller now that she’s [Victoria’s] not here.”

Lisa makes note that her father has spoken in the past about his access to the sludge ponds through his job. Prosecutors have tried to imply Victoria’s body was dumped in a sludge pond, but the ash and sludge in the ponds made it impossible to dredge or search in them.

The defense cross examines Mastey, asking her if James had access to the sludge ponds during Victoria’s disappearance. She cannot say for sure.

“Do you know if he still had access to that site when Vicki went missing?” asked defense lawyer John D’Angelo.

“I can’t say for sure,” said Lisa.

“Do you know how you’d have access to that site?” asked D’Angelo.

“No,” said Lisa.

Jason, the son of Kathy Friday, takes the stand. Jason was living with his mom in 2013. They lived in Curtiss, west of Wausau.

In November of 2012, Kathy’s long-time boyfriend Marv passed away. Jason testifies that Marv’s health had declined and he died of natural causes.

Jason talks about her mother’s trip to a casino in May of 2013. He says his mother came back and told him that she ran into her old friend James Prokopovitz. Jason says she described it as a chance meeting.

Jason testifies that his mother made trips to Pittsfield to see James. This was at the end of May, about a month after Victoria Prokopovitz disappeared.

Jason says he asks his mother to tell him more about James. She tells him that he has a wife that’s been missing for six months. Later, Kathy asks Jason if James can come out to the house in Curtiss. Kathy changes her story and tells her son that James’ wife has been missing for a month. Jason says this raises a red flag and he refuses to let James visit and stay at their house. Jason says he does not trust James.

Jason says he learns that Kathy and James had an affair 30 years prior. They continued to have contact over the years. Jason testifies that he heard from his sister that James and Kathy began talking again in early 2013. That would be three months prior to Victoria’s disappearance.

Jason says he and his sister, Jennifer, confronted Kathy about her relationship with James. Jason says they did their own digging because they believed Kathy to be telling them lies. Jason says he disapproved of her relationship, but she still loved her and still talked to her. He says Jennifer and Kathy stopped talking. He said their relationships were impacted by Kathy’s relationship with James.

Jason says he met James Prokopovitz one time. They spent no significant time together.

Jason Friday, Kathy’s son, testified the two were talking months before Victoria vanished.

“Okay, my answer is that my mother told me. My sister did not,” said Jason.

“Your mother told you that...” said D’Angelo, before Jason interrupted with, “that her and him had a conversation in January at the beginning of the year.”

Lead investigator Sgt. Roman Aronstein of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office is called back to the stand to continue testimony. He talks about April 26, 2013--the day he responded to the missing persons report at the Kunesh Road home. Aronstein says extensive searches happened prior to his arrival that Friday, and Victoria had not been found.

Aronstein testifies that in most suicide cases, a body is discovered in a home or near a home. Victoria has never been found.

Aronstein says he’s worked on “no body” cases before and is trained in investigating them.

Aronstein documents days of searches for Victoria. Searchers reached out to her associates and taxi cab companies. They went door-to-door. They searched a nearby quarry associated with James’ place of work. K-9 units and cadaver dogs were deployed. The Department of Natural Resources used sonar and underwater robot capabilities.

Green Bay and Brown County dive teams responded to the quarry. There was no sign of Victoria. They conduct subsequent searches of the quarry, which is about 60-feet deep, and once again are unable to locate evidence of Mrs. Prokopovitz.

Investigators checked in with shelters and hospitals.

A DNA profile of Victoria is generated and entered into a national database.

On June 11, searchers looked at a pit associated with James’ place of work, McKeefrys. There was no evidence of Victoria found in that search.

When James retired from McKeefrys, investigators had his work vehicle sent to the Wisconsin State Crime Lab for processing.

Sgt. Aronstein obtained pharmacy records for Victoria and found that the last prescription for Victoria was filed on April 8, 2013. That’s 17 days prior to her disappearance. He also testified about searches using bank accounts.

An audio recording from Prokopovitz himself that was played earlier this week said James couldn’t find Victoria’s pills when officers arrived the day she was reported missing.

“There were numerous prescriptions identified and filled up to April 8, 2013 with no further activity following that,” testified Sgt. Aronstein.

Before a break for lunch, the prosecution asks to play a recording in which previous witness Sarah Youngs tells Aronstein that Victoria suspected James was having an affair. On the witness stand, Youngs said she could not recall this. The defense objects, but the judge rules in favor of the prosecution.

In the recording, Sarah Youngs tells Sgt. Aronstein that Victoria had told her that James “drinks a lot” and Victoria was concerned that James was having an affair. This conversation between Youngs and Victoria happened “three or four months” before Victoria’s disappearance.

Afterwards, another confidential witness took the stand.

Late Wednesday afternoon, jurors were shown video recordings from a 2016 interview, when investigators went to James Prokopovitz’s Pittsfield home to talk to James. In the video, James could be seen drinking a beer and growing angry.

The video comes after Sgt. Aronstein told jurors that despite testimony that Prokopovitz and his girlfriend, Kathy Friday, were frugal, he discovered huge increases in money spent at a casino. with James having spent $225,000 in a five year period starting in 2013.

That all came just after the state put its second unidentifiable witness on the stand. The identity of the person couldn’t be revealed due to what are called safety concerns by prosecutors, however, as Sarah Thomsen reported, the court order did allow reporters to be in the court and take notes.

That person, known as Witness Number Two to the court, testified about two conversations with Prokopovitz in 2019. The witness said Prokopovitz told them “He knows for sure she’s dead.”

The witness then asked Prokopovitz how he knew. According to the witness, he responded with “he was 100% sure she was dead” and he was “100% sure they wouldn’t find her.”

That same witness testified telling Prokopovitz if he didn’t kill her, he should just tell police where her body is so he’d get lesser charges. James’ response, according to the witness, was “anytime being locked up is life”, and that if she was found “they wouldn’t even know if it’s her”, and that there would be “no blood, no teeth.”

Witness Number Two also told jurors Prokopovitz was more concerned about his girlfriend, Kathy Friday. The witness said Prokopovitz told them Victoria suspected James of cheating on her, and his response was “til death do us part” and the “only way out is a garbage bag.”

Prosecutors then asked Witness Number Two if Prokopovitz may have been joking, and the witness testified they are convinced James was serious, and told jurors that Prokopovitz is “smarter than he looks.”

During cross examination, the defense team asked if anyone else was around to hear those comments, but the witness said they didn’t know.

Court is scheduled to reconvene at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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