The 9-year-old girl woke up early one morning in December 2009 and found her mother facedown in a bathtub filled with bloody water inside their Manhattan apartment. Above the tub, a cabinet door had been nearly pulled off the hinges.
The girl’s father, who was estranged from her mother and lived across the hall, said the panicked girl had called him, and he had called 911. He told the police that he had tried to revive his wife. Investigators initially determined that her death was an accident. Within days, she was buried, without an autopsy, per the wishes of her Orthodox Jewish family.
But on Wednesday, nine years after the woman, Shele Danishefsky Covlin, 47, was discovered dead, a jury found her husband, Roderick Covlin, 45, guilty of her murder.
The verdict came after a yearslong investigation and an eight-week trial in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. Prosecutors portrayed Mr. Covlin as a heartless schemer who would stop at nothing to collect his wife’s money, who used his children as pawns in his machinations and even took steps to frame his daughter for the murder.
As the verdict was read, Mr. Covlin dropped his head and closed his eyes. The victim’s siblings and their spouses, who had attended the trial every day, embraced each other and wept.
“The wheels of justice turn very slowly, and we always had confidence that ultimately this day would come,” Ms. Danishefsky Covlin’s brother-in-law, Marc Karstaedt, said. “Finally, after nine years, we have justice for our beloved Shele.”
Mr. Covlin’s lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, said he would appeal the verdict.
The trial turned largely on circumstantial evidence that pointed to Mr. Covlin as the only person with a key to the apartment who had a motive to kill Ms. Danishefsky Covlin, a wealthy finance executive. Prosecutors said that Mr. Covlin strangled her to death because he wanted to inherit her fortune, then staged the crime scene to look like an accidental drowning. She had planned to cut him out of her will that same day.
“His primary motive was pure, unadulterated greed,” the lead prosecutor, Matthew Bogdanos, told jurors in his opening statement.
Still, jurors were challenged in determining what happened on New Year’s Eve 2009 inside Ms. Danishefsky Colvin’s apartment at the Dorchester Towers, a luxury building on West 68th Street, a few blocks from Lincoln Center.
The police, who initially thought it was an accidental death, did not immediately dust for fingerprints, or collect DNA. Nor did they secure items in the bathroom for evidence. They took no notes and spoke to only a few neighbors. They never searched Mr. Covlin’s apartment or the building’s common areas for evidence. They even allowed the family’s rabbi to clean the bathroom with peroxide, eliminating any evidence of blood.
Mr. Gottlieb said in closing arguments on Monday that there was no way to determine who had murdered his client’s wife, largely because detectives had botched the investigation.
“It is impossible to know beyond a reasonable doubt what happened to Shele Covlin, how it happened and why it happened,” he said.
Because Ms. Danishefsky Covlin was buried without an autopsy, the cause of death was undetermined for several months. But as suspicions grew regarding Mr. Covlin, the family had her body exhumed, and in April 2010, a medical examiner determined that she had been strangled, her neck squeezed with such force it fractured the hyoid bone, causing bleeding in her right eye.
Still, it took five more years before prosecutors had enough evidence to arrest and charge Mr. Covlin, a self-proclaimed martial arts expert, with her murder.
Ms. Danishefsky Covlin had been married to Mr. Covlin for 11 years, and before her death had confided in family members and close friends about his erratic and abusive behavior, according to testimony and evidence presented at trial.
She wrote to her sister, Eve Karstaedt, in January 2009 that she was “very scared that at some point in the future all his anger and rage may result in something bad happening — he really can’t control his temper.”
The children’s babysitter, Hyacinth Reid, testified that one day Mr. Covlin was screaming at Ms. Danishefsky Covlin so loudly inside their apartment that he could be heard in the hallway. Later, Ms. Reid said, Ms. Danishefsky Covlin told her Mr. Covlin had thrown her to the floor.
Ms. Danishefsky Covlin filed for divorce in May 2009 and was planning to remove him from her will. That angered Mr. Covlin, who prosecutors say was often unemployed, and dependent on his wife and her family’s largess.
Prosecutors described Mr. Covlin as an impecunious professional backgammon player who risked losing his children and his lavish lifestyle if the divorce was approved. He wanted his wife dead, Mr. Bogdanos said, because he was set to receive about $5 million from her estate.
Ms. Danishefsky Covlin met Mr. Covlin at a Jewish singles party at Le Bar Bat, a bar in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan in February 1998, prosecutors said. They were engaged in a matter of weeks, despite an age difference of 11 years. Two years later, they had their first child, Anna.
Ms. Danishefsky Covlin was a senior vice president for private wealth management at UBS, while Mr. Covlin was an unsuccessful stockbroker who went to school, traveled for backgammon tournaments and had tried his luck in a number of financial ventures that Ms. Danishefsky Covlin helped fund, court records show. He also spent countless hours pursuing women for sex, prosecutors said.
On their 10th anniversary, Mr. Covlin told Ms. Danishefsky Covlin that he wanted an open marriage, and she objected, prosecutors said.
They separated in April 2009. She rented the apartment directly across the hall from hers for him because she did not want to disrupt the children’s lives — they had a second child, a son, by then. She also gave Mr. Covlin a set of keys to her apartment, a decision prosecutors said cost her her life.
For the rest of the year, the divorce and custody battle became increasingly bitter. Mr. Covlin, who had lost his job at Pragma Securities, a financial consulting firm, told a Family Court judge that he could no longer afford to pay child support. In response, the judge forbade him to spend money to attend backgammon tournaments. “All of which led to his growing, obsessive, all-consuming hatred of her,” Mr. Bogdanos said.
A month after they separated, Mr. Covlin tried to sabotage his wife, according to court records, telling her employer that she used drugs and had stolen money from their joint account. Two months later, he coached their 3-year-old son, Myles, to falsely accuse Ms. Danishefsky Covlin of sexual abuse, prosecutors said.
Patricia Swenson, a woman Mr. Covlin met online, testified that he had told her in August of that year that he wanted to kill his wife or to have her die some other way.
Prosecutors say that Mr. Covlin followed through on his word, but his attempts to obtain his wife’s money after her death stalled after he became mired in a legal battle with her brother, along with a custody dispute over the children.
For Mr. Covlin, custody of the children meant access to the millions of dollars his wife had left for them. In the end, however, his parents, David and Carol Covlin, of Scarsdale, became the children’s guardians.
Mr. Covlin, who moved in with his parents, assaulted his mother in September 2011, slamming her headfirst into a wall, and attacked his father two months later, according to court records. He also took $84,000 from his children’s college fund.
By the fall of 2012, Mr. Covlin had laid out several plans to kill his parents but didn’t carry them out, according to testimony and court records. “His anger and rage was uncontrollable,” another girlfriend, Debra Oles, testified, saying Mr. Covlin had tried to recruit her to help with his schemes.
In January 2013, Mr. Covlin instructed his daughter, Anna, who was then 12, to accuse her grandfather of rape, according to court records. But the girl balked.
Later that year, Mr. Covlin plotted to kidnap Anna and take her to Mexico, where he would pay someone $10,000 to marry her in order to emancipate her from her grandparents, prosecutors said in court papers. That plan also never came to pass.
While Mr. Covlin continued to concoct plans to get his children back and to regain access to their inheritance, he was the primary suspect in the ongoing murder investigation.
In one of his final acts before being arrested, court papers say, Mr. Covlin devised a plan to frame his daughter for Ms. Danishefsky Covlin’s murder. In June 2013, he composed a false murder confession in her email account as if it were written by her.
“I lied,” Mr. Covlin wrote, pretending to be his daughter. “She didn’t just slip.”
Full Article & Source:
He Wanted His Wife’s Fortune. So He Killed Her, Then Tried Framing His Daughter.