WINNIPEG — In the days and weeks after his wife, Beverly Rowbotham was found dead in the back seat of the family car, her head crushed by repeated blows from an axe of hatchet, Mark Stobbe installed floodlights for the backyard and bought a large dog.
Someone was out there stalking and killing his family, he told a Winnipeg courtroom Friday.
He had to do something to protect himself and, especially, his two young boys from whoever was putting them at risk.
Stobbe made the brief admission on his second day on the witness stand, testifying in his own defence that he had nothing to do with his wife’s slaying.
Wearing the same grey suit he has for the month-long trial, the bulky Stobbe filled the wooden witness box, often looking directly at the jury when he answered his questions.
He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder for the October 2000 homicide, a killing the Crown alleges happened when an argument between the couple in the backyard escalated to violence.
It’s alleged he then dragged and dumped her lifeless body into the family car, drove it to Selkirk and abandoned it, before riding a bicycle back to their St. Andrews home — all in an attempt to cover up his crime by making it look like a random robbery.
Stobbe told the jurors Friday he had no idea where his 42-year-old wife was killed until his sister-in-law told him, after RCMP told her and her husband.
“I’ve spent a lot of nights looking out the window wondering,” he said.
When asked by his lawyer, Tim Killeen, how he felt when it was confirmed Rowbotham was killed in the backyard, Stobbe broke down on the stand.
“It was confirmation of my worst fears,” he sobbed. “What it meant (was) I was 50 to 60 feet away when she was killed.
“What it meant (was) I should have been able to stop it. I was completely useless in helping her.”
Court broke and then resumed about 15 minutes later. Stobbe apologized to the jury for his emotional breakdown.
Stobbe, 54, has said he fell asleep watching a baseball game on TV when his wife went shopping to Safeway in Selkirk to take advantage of 10 per cent Tuesday. It was the second trip she made to Safeway that day. Stobbe says he woke up hours later to find she wasn’t at home. He called family to see if they had seen her and then called RCMP to report her missing.
When Rowbotham’s body was found, she was slumped in the backseat and not wearing any shoes and socks.
In their search of the backyard, RCMP found blood and tiny bone chips from Rowbotham’s skull. Forensic expects also found blood in the garage of the home, blood found to be from an unknown male.
“It had to be the blood of the invader,” Stobbe said, saying the lab results should have exonerated him as suspect. Unknown male DNA was also found on Rowbotham’s purse.
Crown attorney Wendy Dawson, in her questioning of Stobbe, asked why he had never made an insurance claim for his wife’s missing diamond wedding ring, which disappeared the night she was killed. Stobbe testified the ring was worth $7,000 and replaced a cheap cubic zirconia ring Rowbotham had bought herself.
“You didn’t make a claim for her ring because it wasn’t stolen,” Dawson said. “You took it off her hand before you brutally killed her.”
Stobbe denied the allegation, saying he never bothered because he wasn’t concerned about its value — he only cared about the loss of his wife.
However, Stobbe also said he attempted to make a claim with Manitoba Public Insurance for loss of the family’s Crown Victoria sedan in which Rowbotham’s body was found.
“MPI said I didn’t suffer a loss,” Stobbe said, adding he believes the car is still in possession of RCMP.
Dawson also confronted Stobbe with his business card; his job title was strategic and corporate information co-ordinator with the Community Economic Development Committee for the Doer government. It was a job he took after his previous post of deputy chief of staff to Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow became tenuous following the drubbing the Saskatchewan NDP took in the 1999 general election. Stobbe was one of the architects of the campaign along with Brian Topp, now a candidate for leadership of the federal NDP.
On the back of the card was scribbled the Crown Victoria’s new Manitoba licence plate number.
Dawson accused Stobbe of writing it down so he’d remember the number when he called RCMP to report his wife missing.
“I have no idea who wrote that on the back of that business card,” Stobbe said. “I did not write that information on the back of the back of the business card to report Bev missing.”
Stobbe’s testimony resumes on Monday.
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 10, 2012