WINNIPEG — Twelve jurors began the task Tuesday of determining whether a man violently killed his wife — without being seen by any witnesses — while the couple’s two sons slept just metres away.
In his final instructions, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin told the jurors to “be careful not to overreach” as they pore over seven weeks of circumstantial evidence and testimony from more than 80 witnesses.
The jury may not have all the pieces, but may still be able to assemble a picture of what happened that warm fall night on Oct. 24, 2000.
Mark Stobbe had been a senior adviser to former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow. Stobbe moved his family to St. Andrews, Man., in the spring of 2000 so he could take a high-ranking communications job with the NDP government of Gary Doer.
The Crown alleges Stobbe got into an argument with his wife, Beverly Rowbotham, in the couple’s backyard after their two sons were put to bed. The Crown’s theory is that Stobbe hit Rowbotham in the head 16 times with a hatchet, carried her to a car in the garage, drove her body 15 kilometres north to Selkirk, then bicycled back home to report her missing.
Stobbe testified he was watching a baseball game on television when Rowbotham decided to go for a late-night grocery run. He fell asleep and woke up around 2:30 a.m. to find her still gone, he told court.
There were no witnesses to the death. Neighbours testified they did not see or hear anything unusual that night, and no one reported seeing the couple even argue.
The Crown has relied on DNA evidence that shows blood drops, hair and small bone fragments that were found in the backyard and garage belonged to Rowbotham. Crown witnesses testified seeing a cyclist on the rural highway that night — unusual for the time of year and the late hour — but none could identify Stobbe as the man who was seen.
Crown attorney Wendy Dawson told the jury last week that Stobbe’s version does not make sense. How could a stranger commit such a brutal attack, get into the family car, open the garage door and drive the body away without Stobbe hearing anything from inside the house? she asked.
The jury paused their deliberations Tuesday afternoon to ask the judge if they could read notes he took about one witness.
Martin said it would be inappropriate for him to share his notes and suggested jurors instead ask for a transcript or recording of the witness’s testimony.
The jurors retired for the night without reaching a verdict, and were to resume deliberations Wednesday morning.