Professional backgammon player Roderick ‘Rod’ Covlin was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on Wednesday for murdering his estranged finance executive wife a decade ago.
Dressed in a white button-down shirt, the 46-year-old defendant broke down in tears and while photographed wiping his eyes with a tissue while listening to his mother, Carol, speak before learning his fate in State Supreme Court.
A jury in March found Covlin guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Shele Danishefsky Covlin, 47, who was found strangled in the blood-filled bathtub of her Upper West Side apartment on New Year’s Eve in 2009.
Defense lawyer Robert Gottlieb says Covlin plans to appeal the verdict.
Crocodile tears: Convicted wife killer Roderick Covlin, 46, cries at his sentencing hearing on Wednesday
This is the moment Covlin hears his sentence of 25 years to life for his wife’s murder Wednesday
Covlin was found guilty in March (pictured in court, left) of strangling to death his estranged wife, Shele Danishefsky Covlin (pictured together, right), in 2009
Covlin grows emotional hearing his mother speak at the sentencing
Rod and Shele were locked in a bitter divorce and custody battle over their children, and prosecutors argued that the husband was afraid that his UBS executive wife would cut him out of her $5.3million will.
On New Year’s Day, Danishefsky Covlin had been scheduled to meet with an attorney to change her will.
Police initially thought Danishefsky Covlin’s death an accident. For religious reasons her Orthodox Jewish family objected to an autopsy. But as suspicions mounted her body was exhumed and the medical examiner determined she’d been strangled.
Covlin, who helped found the US Backgammon Federation, was charged in Danishefsky Covlin’s death in 2015, two months before he was to receive a settlement in a lawsuit over a $1.6million life insurance policy on his late wife.
He denied killing her, claiming that he performed CPR on her and called 911 for help.
UBS executive Shele Danishefsky (pictured) was in the midst of divorcing her husband Rod Covlin when he murdered her on December 31, 2009
At Covlin’s sentencing Wednesday, the victim’s family were given a chance to deliver impact statements describing their anguish and their rage.
‘The existence of Rod Covlin is the strongest argument there is for the death penalty,’ Shele’s brother Fred Danishefsky said. ‘He is an evil predator in the strongest sense of those two words.’
Shele and Rod’s children, Myles, who was two years old at the time of his mother’s death, and Anna, who was nine, also addressed the court, defending their father.
Anna, who found her mother’s lifeless body in the tub, described her father as ‘one of the most caring and loving people’ she knows,’ according to the New York Daily News.
Her brother, now aged 12, begged the judge for leniency and professed his love for his father, as the New York Post reported.
The prosecution, however, painted a drastically different picture of Rod Covlin, saying he has shown no remorse for his actions and made no amends.
‘The Danishefsky family never gave up, and neither did we,’ Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said in a written statement released Wednesday.
‘Roderick Covlin will now spend decades in prison for his domestic violence, depravity and deception, but family and intimate partner violence continues on in apartments across New York City.’
Bogdanos said Shele was moving on with her successful life while the unemployed Covlin festered and, to top it off, she was taking steps to cut him out of her $5.3 million will.
What started as a whirlwind romance ended in murder. They met at a dance for Jewish singles and both were smitten, at one point telling Shele’s sister Eve Karstaedt they were running away to get married in Las Vegas. The pair wound up not eloping but were married in September 1998.
Still, the ardor had cooled by the time their 10th-wedding anniversary arrived – Covlin told Shele he wanted them to have an open marriage, which she, disgusted, rejected flat out. But, according to Karstaedt’s testimony, Shele had by then found out her husband was already cheating on her.
Shele’s brothers Phil (left) and Fred Danishefsky (right) were on hand for Covlin’s sentencing
By January 2009, the situation deteriorated beyond repair.
Shele wrote in emails to her sister that Covlin and his often out-of-control anger had been a nightmare to live with for a long time. That month, she confronted him about his infidelities and he admitted to cheating, Shele wrote in an email to her sister.
By April 2009, Covlin was out of the marital home at Dorchester Towers apartment building on the Upper West Side, but ensconced in an apartment across the hall – which Shele leased – so he could have access to their children, Anna and Myles, then 9 and 2 respectively.
A Mother’s Day outing to the Botanical Gardens with the separated couple and their children ended in tears and recrimination when Covlin tore into Shele for not being respectful to his mother.
A shaken Shele frantically texted Karstaedt, saying ‘**** hit fan’ and that Covlin was moving his stuff back into her apartment.
She met Karstaedt the next day at the shoe department at Lord & Taylor, where Karstaedt advised her sister the marriage was doomed.
Covlin and Shele had a physical confrontation that week, according to the Covlins’ nanny, Rose Reid. Shele filed for divorce by the end of the week.
Covlin then tried to undermine her at UBS, where she had begun working at the start of 2009. Covlin complained to Shele’s boss that she was on drugs and was ruining him financially and draining the joint checking account.
John Alex, Shele’s boss, testified that Shele had recently passed a new-hire drug screening and that Covlin had withdrawn $7,200 from the checking account while Shele had taken out a mere $800.
In July, Covlin, who had unsupervised visitation with the children, did not return them to their mother at 9 p.m. as he was supposed to.
Instead, he brought them to a hospital where he told doctors that Myles, then 2, said his mother had touched his genitals and bottom.
Both the doctors and child protective specialists found no evidence Myles had been abused and closed the case.
But Covlin’s move did not sit well with the judge in the couple’s divorce case, who curtailed Covlin’s visitation – requiring it to be supervised.
She also ordered the unemployed Covlin, who was fired from his last job for playing online backgammon at work and taking too much time off to follow the backgammon tour, to turn over $425 in child support to Shele.
Both were seeing other people by then; Shele had met a few people through J-Date and Covlin was trolling through the backgammon community via Facebook.
In August 2009, Covlin travelled to Pennsylvania with a woman from upstate New York with whom he had shared a couple of dates.
Patricia Swensen, a self-admitted ‘functional alcoholic,’ said Covlin went into a rage when talking about Shele, saying how he wanted to kill her.
Covlin’s mother, Carol, attended the emotional hearing Wednesday morning
‘He wanted her dead,’ Swensen said. ‘His face, his eyes, they were getting glassy like has getting psychotic.’
She said Covlin also wanted to hire hitmen to kill Shele’s father Joel Danishefsky, because, he explained to Swensen, Covlin’s money was tied up with his father-in-law.
Prosecutors said Covlin was monitoring Shele’s email and a witness testified that Covlin had put a keystroke logger on her computer.
The prosecution alleged that armed with illegally-gleaned knowledge, Covlin was able to learn Shele was due to meet an attorney on Dec. 31, 2009 – the day she was found dead in her bathtub by her 9-year-old daughter.
On the day before her death, Shele’s hairdresser paid her a house call, giving her a treatment to straighten her hair, which would come undone if she wet her hair over the next few days, a point hammered home by prosecutors.
Later on Dec. 30, Shele returned home from a date around 8 p.m. and spent the evening with the children.
Covlin meanwhile was holed up across the hall playing backgammon online with girlfriend Debra Oles, a married North Carolina woman he first romanced earlier that year.
He and Oles played until 1:03 a.m. on Dec. 31, with Covlin signing off to do some work on his nascent backgammon federation. He texted her around 4 a.m. to tell her he fell asleep and that he had gotten no work done.
His other nocturnal movements included two trips to the store – the first involving an ostentatious and unusual offer by him to pick up something for the doorman, the other to buy two 2-liter bottles of seltzer, which the prosecution maintained in closing arguments was used to clean up Shele’s blood from a sheet in her bedroom.
Sometime after 7 a.m., Anna Covlin, who was never brought in to testify, called her father to say Shele was in the bathtub and not moving,
Covlin related to responding officers. After finding his wife, he rolled her out of the tub, called 911 and began CPR, according to what Covlin told cops at the scene.
Personnel from the Fire Department and EMS evaluated Shele and declined to start CPR because rigor mortis had set in. (Rigor mortis normally forms within three to six hours of death, which would give an approximate time of death as 1:25 a.m. to 4:25 a.m., the period Covlin was out of contact with Oles.)
Footage from Covlin’s Dorchester Towers home shows Covlin walking out of the elevator to get seltzer at 423am on December 31, 2009 which prosecutors claimed was to clean up evidence
Jurors saw Shele’s body, covered with a bedsheet, next to a bathtub filled with blood-tinged water at her apartment on New York’s Upper West Side on December 31, 2009
Uniformed officers called for detectives to respond and that’s when Covlin’s road to riches hit a snag.
Detectives were convinced the death was an accident – Bogdanos said Covlin planted the idea – there was blood in the tub and a cabinet door was half-torn off making it appear that Shele yanked it as she tried to stop from falling.
The detectives spoke with Anna in the presence of Covlin’s father and interviewed Covlin as well.
Despite Covlin’s claim he had dragged his wife from the blood-tinged water in the tub, his T-shirt was clean and dry – a point apparently lost on the NYPD.
A Crime Scene Unit detective testified he went to the scene and took some photos but had deferred performing a full forensic search until after the autopsy when it would likely be more apparent what he should look for.
That plan came to naught when Shele’s Orthodox Jewish family expressed reservations about an autopsy.
Eventually, Shele’s family relented and the police got an order of exhumation so that Shele’s body could be examined.
Dr. Jonathan Hayes of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said he found Shele’s hyoid bone, also known as the tongue bone, had been fractured, a hallmark of strangulation.
He deemed her death to be a homicide in April 2010 but it was not until July that investigators got a search warrant to scour the apartment.
When her estranged husband was found guilty last month, Shele’s brother-in-law Marc Karstaedt told DailyMail,com: ‘The wheels of justice turn very slowly, and we always had confidence that ultimately this day would come. Finally, after nine years, we have justice for our beloved Shele.
‘She was a beautiful person both inside and out, extraordinary in so many different ways and angelic and she was brutally murdered in a way that no one could imagine nine years ago and our lives have not been the same since.’