Husband pleads not guilty in wife's death in NYC tub

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NEW YORK (AP) -- For more than five years after a finance executive was found strangled in her Manhattan bathtub, suspicion swirled around her estranged husband.

But Roderick Covlin denied involvement, and law enforcement officials eyed but never charged him until Monday, when he pleaded not guilty to murder in a case full of dramatic twists: a death initially seen as accidental and later ruled a homicide, an exhumed body, a divorce that was reaching a crucial point and a trail of accusations in civil court papers.

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Covlin's lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, said his client was "stunned" by his arrest Sunday.

"There can be no credible evidence, because he did not kill his wife," Gottlieb said after Covlin's arraignment.

Prosecutors and police declined to comment on what had prompted charges now in Shele Danishefsky Covlin's 2009 death. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. cited only "an investigation over the ensuing years."

A half-dozen of Shele Covlin's relatives watched as her husband was brought to court Monday to answer for her death. They declined to comment afterward.

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.

After years of marriage and two children, their relationship was falling apart. He had moved into an apartment across the hall in their Upper West Side building, and they were embroiled in a bitter divorce, according to court papers filed in Manhattan Surrogate's Court, which handles estates.

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Husband pleads not guilty in wife's death in NYC tub
Roderick Covlin talking with his lawyers in Manhattan Supreme Court after a hearing on child visitation rights for his in-laws on Friday. Covlin maintains he had nothing to do with the mysterious 2009 death of his wife. (Photo by Jefferson Siegel/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Philip Danishefsky, the brother of Shele Covlin, his wife Peggy and Rabbi Joel Danishefsky, Shele's father, at a trial for Roderick Covlin in Manhattan Supreme Court for a hearing on child visitation rights for Roderick's in-laws. (Photo by Jefferson Siegel/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Roderick Covlin talking with his lawyers in Manhattan Supreme Court after a hearing on child visitation rights for his in-laws on Friday. Covlin maintains he had nothing to do with the mysterious 2009 death of his wife. (Photo by Jefferson Siegel/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Attorney Robert Gottlieb speaks to reporters in New York, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. Gottlieb is representing Roderick Covlin who has been arrested on a murder charge in a case full of dramatic twists: his wife's death initially seen as accidental and later ruled a homicide, an exhumed body, a divorce that was reaching a crucial point and a trail of accusations in civil court papers. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Attorney Robert Gottlieb, left, speaks to reporters in New York, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. Gottlieb is representing Roderick Covlin who has been arrested on a murder charge in a case full of dramatic twists: his wife's death initially seen as accidental and later ruled a homicide, an exhumed body, a divorce that was reaching a crucial point and a trail of accusations in civil court papers. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Roderick Covlin waits for car after leaving court. The District Attorney's office has opened a probe into the death of Covlin's wife, Shele Danishefsky Covlin. Before her death, she had told friends her husband had been harassing and following her. (Photo by Jefferson Siegel/NY Daliy News via Getty Images)
Roderick Covlin (left) and his mother wait for their car after they left court. The District Attorney's office has opened a probe into the death of Covlin's wife, Shele Danishefsky Covlin. Before her death, she had told friends her husband had been harassing and following her. (Photo by Jefferson Siegel/NY Daliy News via Getty Images)
Roderick Covlin waits for car after leaving court. The District Attorney's office has opened a probe into the death of Covlin's wife, Shele Danishefsky Covlin. Before her death, she had told friends her husband had been harassing and following her. (Photo by Jefferson Siegel/NY Daliy News via Getty Images)
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And Shele (pronounced SHEHL'-ee) Covlin was due to meet an attorney on Jan. 1, 2010 — the day after she was found dead — 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.

"She was fearful for her life, believed Rod intended to kill her, and there was some urgency to make changes in her will," documents filed in Surrogate's Court say.

Then their daughter, now 15, found Shele Covlin lifeless in the tub.

With the only obvious sign of trauma a cut on the back of her head, investigators initially thought she had slipped and fallen. After her Orthodox Jewish family objected to an autopsy for religious reasons, the cause of her death was listed as undetermined.

But as an investigation began, her body was exhumed and autopsied with her family's permission. Medical examiners concluded in April 2010 she had been strangled.

And her relatives — and later, a court agency — said Roderick Covlin was to blame.

Her father scorned his son-in-law as "an animal" in a newspaper interview, and the family fought him for custody of the children. His guardianship was eventually suspended after information on the criminal investigation surfaced; his parents currently have custody.

And the Manhattan public administrator, a government figure who handles complicated estates and was named temporary custodian of Shele Covlin's, filed a 2011 wrongful death suit accusing her husband of killing her.

"It's just been a very bitter, personal battle" in multiple courts, Gottlieb said.

Roderick Covlin, meanwhile, has been living in suburban New Rochelle. He was held Monday as Gottlieb prepares an argument for bail.

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