Man charged in death of estranged wife in Upper West Side bathtub

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A 42 year old man long suspected in the death of his estranged wife in their Upper West Side condo in 2009 was finally charged with her murder.

Roderick Covlin was arrested Sunday at the Metro North station in Scarsdale and appeared briefly in Manhattan Criminal Court Monday.

Covlin pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, said his client was stunned by the arrest and said there can be no credible evidence, because his client did not kill 47-year old Shele Covlin.

Her body was found in their West 68th Street apartment on New Years Eve 2009.

Her body was found face down in the bathtub by their nine-year-old daughter. But initial interviews of her by detectives may have been tainted by her father's influence, authorities say.

"In the back of his mind he did not know this day was going to come because right from the beginning he said he did not commit the crime," said Gottlieb. "And people should understand right from the beginning he cooperated with police, with investigators. He spoke to them for hours on end. So yes he's stunned because based on the cooperation, based on what he told them, based on the lack of credible evidence, he never thought it would result in him being formally charged with murder."

An autopsy was not immediately done for religious reasons, and the body was badly decomposed by the time they got a rabbi's blessing to exhume the body three months later.

The death was initially believed to be an accidental slip-and-fall, and her body was buried the day after her death.

Friends later revealed that she told them her estranged husband threatened to kill her, and that she feared for her life. Embroiled in a bitter custody battle, she obtained an order of protection against him.

In July 2010, the medical examiner ruled her death a homicide by strangulation.

Covlin was the prime suspect in the case, but attempts to prosecute were delayed because of lack of forensics.

He was named in a wrongful death suit by his estranged wife's estate last month, alleging that Covlin "intentionally, deliberately, willfully, wantonly, maliciously, brutally and without provocation or just cause did strangle, choke, strike, injure, assault, abuse, beat and murder" his wife.

The civil suit, filed just before the statute of limitations was to expire, was intended to prevent him from inheriting a share of wife's estate, which was estimated to be worth at least $1.5 million.

The husband now lives in New Rochelle.

Shele Covlin, 47, was a money manager at UBS, part of a finance family in which she worked alongside her brother and father. Her 42-year-old husband, known as Rod, had been a trader and was a noted figure in the backgammon world, having helped found the U.S. Backgammon Federation.

Shele Covlin was due to meet an attorney on Jan. 1, 2010 - the day after she died - to cut her husband out of her will. He stood to get half her roughly $4 million estate, with the rest going to their children.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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