Murdered Waterford woman lived in fear, sister says

Motel killing suspect, still on loose, was bound for jail in earlier attack

April 23, 2009 

A Waterford man suspected of stabbing his former girlfriend to death Wednesday was convicted of beating her last month. His 60-day jail sentence was scheduled to start May 26.

Modesto police detectives Thursday night were looking for Erick John Vogel, 38, who is wanted on suspicion of murder.

Police said the attack occurred about 2:20 a.m. when Vogel broke into a room at the Rodeway Inn in Modesto and stabbed Katherine Voelker, 26, of Waterford. She was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Voelker's family said Thursday she was trapped in an abusive relationship with Vogel for more than five years before she escaped in early March.

The family said Voelker sought refuge at a women's shelter and hid from Vogel for more than a month. She moved into a McHenry Avenue motel room last week with her two young children.

Belinda Rolicheck, executive director of the Haven Women's Center in Modesto, said Voelker stayed at the shelter for 30 days until last week with her children, who are 2 and 4. She said shelter staff are devastated.

"For years, she was a victim of abuse from him and she was trying to get out," Rolicheck said. "We tell people all the time that's the most dangerous time, but they don't believe us. This is a textbook case."

Jennifer Sahines, 24, said she spent all day with her sister Tuesday. Sahines said she last saw Voelker about 10 p.m. when she went back to the motel.

About four hours later, police found her injured sister in the motel room with her son and daughter standing nearby.

"He wasn't supposed to know she was there," Sahines said. "I didn't know he would find her."

Sahines, along with friends and other family members, spent Thursday posting fliers with Vogel's photo.

"None of us slept last night," Sahines said. "How could we, knowing he's still out on the loose."

Everyone knew Voelker as "Kat," and family and friends described her as a sweet young woman with a lot of potential.

Sahines said her sister never married Vogel, and the couple had a son and a daughter. They lived with Vogel's parents in Waterford. Attempts to reach Vogel's family were not successful Thursday.

On March 16, deputies arrested Vogel on the domestic violence charges, according to court documents.

On March 24, Vogel was convicted of felony battery on a spouse. The criminal complaint alleged that Vogel inflicted a corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon the victim.

Vogel was sentenced to 60 days in jail, 40 hours of community service and three years of felony probation. The court assessed a $200 fine.

The conviction and sentence was part of a plea agreement with the Stanislaus County district attorney's office, said Deputy District Attorney Nate Baker. He is the lead domestic violence prosecutor and prosecuted Vogel.

Prosecutors obtained a restraining order, Baker said, that ordered Vogel to stay 100 yards from Voelker. If he violated the restraining order, Baker said Vogel could have received the maximum sentence for spousal battery — four years in state prison.

Vogel had served nine days in jail by the time he was convicted and was given four days' credit for good behavior and work while in custody, according to court documents. He had to serve 47 more days.

Baker said the court allowed Vogel to postpone the start of his jail sentence for about two months, something routinely granted to defendants who plead guilty and have jail sentences of less than 120 days.

Defendants considered a high risk to public safety or a particular victim are not granted these types of postponements, Baker said. Vogel was not required to wear an electronic monitoring device.

Baker said a 60-day jail sentence is not uncommon for cases such as Vogel's, because he did not use a weapon and did not inflict great bodily injury. The law considers great bodily injury to be broken bones or lacerations that require extensive stitches.

Baker said Vogel punched Voelker in the face March 9.

Vogel's two-month sentence also is common for a defendant with no previous felony domestic violence convictions.

In August, Vogel was convicted of misdemeanor battery on a spouse or cohabitator and misdemeanor false imprisonment, according to court documents.

The misdemeanor charges stemmed from an April 12, 2008, domestic violence incident. Voelker also was the victim in the case.

Vogel's three-year probationary period started as soon as he pleaded guilty, and the court ordered him to report to his probation officer no later than April 2.

Baker said prosecutors would like to seek the maximum sentence for every defendant accused of abusing a spouse. In Vogel's case, he said the district attorney's office took steps to protect the victim and came up with a plea agreement that was in accordance with the law.

"This is always the worst case scenario as a prosecutor," Baker said. "You don't really have a crystal ball in these cases. This is a complete tragedy."

Detectives ask anyone with information about the stabbing or Vogel's whereabouts to call Modesto police at 572-9500 or Crime Stoppers at 521-4636.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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