Judge Andrew Self found a former Fort Campbell soldier accused of murder in shooting death of his wife guilty of second-degree manslaughter Thursday in Christian Circuit Court.
The defendant, Michael D. Korolevich, 35, had requested a bench trial in which there is no jury and the judge issues the verdict. Korolevich was accused of murder on allegations he shot his wife in the head in 2011 and tried to make it look like a suicide.
According to testimony from the Christian County sheriff’s detective who interviewed Korolevich after the shooting, Korolevich told the detective that he picked up his wife, Kathleen McGee, on Dec. 2, 2011, in Nashville after she came home from deployment and was dismissed from the Army.
They went to their Calvacade Circle home in Oak Grove, had some pizza, drank some alcohol and went to bed. Early the next morning, Korolevich called 911 and said his wife had been shot.
Initially, police were confused as to what had happened.
Korolevich initially said McGhee shot herself, but Bobby Nichols, a retired Christian County sheriff’s detective, testified Monday that, even though he thought there was something missing in Korolevich’s story, he didn’t know what it was and was leaning toward ruling McGhee’s death an accident.
Eric Berg, a forensic pathologist and medical examiner at Fort Campbell, testified that McGee had a blood alcohol level almost three times the legal limit for driving in Kentucky. He also said she had a toxic dose of Tramadol, a synthetic opiate, in her system.
The pathologist also testified that he did not find any signs McGhee had been taking her doctor-prescribed medication for depression.
However, he still described her death as murder in his report.
On Thursday, objections flew from both sides as the last two witnesses took the stand.
The defense asked that Commonwealth’s Attorney Lynn Pryor’s final witness not go into detail on certain things, such as results of a polygraph test taken by Korolevich, one of the key pieces of evidence against him along with his written confession, which he previously recanted but couldn’t get thrown out as evidence against him.
Previously, a ballistics expert testified it was impossible to say for sure based on gun residue that Korolevich shot his wife.
There are three basic types of gun residue, and Korolevich tested positive for one of them. His wife didn’t test positive for any of them, but the residue still could have been transferred between the two or wiped off before the tests were done.
Pryor’s last witness, Special Agent Elizabeth Smith, said she administered Korolevich’s polygraph and Korolevich told her during the interview that he had fallen asleep in a chair at some point during the night and woke up when he heard a gunshot.
His account of what happened was similar to what he told the sheriff’s detective.
Smith said no new information came out of the interview with Korolevich until, after the polygraph. After finding out he failed the test, Korolevich quickly changed his story and described in detail how he shot his wife, Smith testified.
Smith said Korolevich told her that he and his wife had argued that night. At one point, Korolevich grabbed McGhee’s arm and forced a gun to her head. He pulled the trigger several times until it fired.
In his written confession, Korolevich again confirmed he and McGhee fought that night.
According to Korolevich, McGhee called him names, and he picked up a gun. She asked him what he was going to do with it, and that’s when he killed her. He said he never meant to hurt her.
“I guess I was just angry,” Korolevich wrote.
The defense put Christopher Buterbaugh, its lone witness, on the stand and asked him to describe what McGee’s mental state was like the night she died.
He explained McGee had just been discharged from the Army, and her weapons, ammunition and knives were taken away. He said she looked defeated as she was serious about her Army career.
He also said he knew McGee hated her husband. He recalled that, one time when she was checking her emails, she saw one from Korolevich and flatly said she hated him.
James Phillips, one of Korolevich’s lawyers, argued in his closing statements that Korolevich didn’t mean to do it.
Phillips said Korolevich was the only one there and did not change the narrative in his favor. The attorney also said that, based on his client’s written confession, Korolevich clearly didn’t want to do it and would give anything to change what happened.
Korolevich did not testify in his defense.
Pryor pointed out Korolevich never offered a good defense as to why he killed his wife. He could have put the gun down, not held her by the arm or avoided picking up the gun at all, she said.
Instead, he was angry McGee insulted his manhood, Pryor explained, adding that everything Korolevich did shows intent.
“You cannot just kill someone because you’re angry,” Pryor said.
After a short break, Self came back and found Korolevich guilty of manslaughter. In explaining his decision, Self said he does not believe Korolevich meant to kill his wife, but that doesn’t erase his disregard for her life.
After the verdict was announced, Michael Thompson, another one of Korolevich’s attorneys, characterized Self’s decision as a win for the defense.
Korolevich’s final sentencing is set for March 4.
Self refused to allow Korolevich out of jail before then.
Reach Meredith Willse at 270-887-3262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.