NEWS
03/29/2012 01:09 EDT | Updated 05/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Mark Stobbe Acquitted: Former Political Adviser Not Guilty In Murder Of Wife

CP
WINNIPEG - Minutes after being found not guilty in the brutal killing of his wife, former political adviser Mark Stobbe told reporters he would like to know who the killer was, but it's not his task to find out.

"I've heard the judge say on many occasions that that isn't my job. It's not something I can speculate on," Stobbe, 53, said outside court.

"Of course, I want to know."

Stobbe added he now wants to focus on raising his two teenaged sons.

"I'm very proud of my sons. I know their mother would be too."

After two days of deliberations, a 12-member jury found Stobbe not guilty of second-degree murder Thursday in the death of his wife, Beverly Rowbotham. Her bludgeoned body was found in her car 15 kilometres away from the couple's home in St. Andrew's, Man., in the early hours of Oct. 25, 2000.

When the verdict was read in a Winnipeg courtroom, Stobbe let out what sounded like a sigh, leaned forward and put his head down on one arm that was resting on the edge of the prisoner's box.

When he looked up again, his face was flush with emotion.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Chris Martin told Stobbe he could now focus on raising his children as a tribute to his late wife. "Thank you," Stobbe replied.

The verdict followed seven weeks of testimony from 80 witnesses in a puzzling whodunit based on circumstantial evidence.

Stobbe told police Rowbotham had gone out for a late-night grocery run while he fell asleep. When he woke up about 2:30 a.m., she had not returned.

The Crown alleged Stobbe and Rowbotham got into a violent argument in their backyard after putting their sons to bed. The Crown alleged Stobbe hit his wife with a hatchet 16 times in the head, then carried her body to a car in the garage and drove to Selkirk to make it look like she had been robbed. Stobbe then bicycled 15 kilometres back home to report his wife missing, Crown attorney Wendy Dawson told court.

The Crown relied on DNA evidence that showed blood, hair and small bone fragments from Rowbotham were found in the backyard.

But there were no witnesses to the killing. Neighbours reported not hearing or seeing anything unusual that night. A young girl who was selling treats door-to-door went to the Stobbe home around 8:45 p.m. and told her mother the couple seemed "nice."

The Crown said Stobbe was the only logical culprit. Would a stranger be able to kill Rowbotham in the backyard, get her into the car, open the garage door and drive away without Stobbe hearing? Would a stranger take the risk of driving a body 15 kilometres away?

Stobbe spent six days testifying, most of it under cross-examination, in which he consistently denied the Crown's accusations.

"After an extraordinarily thorough investigation involving hundreds of witnesses, hundreds of wiretapped conversations and everything else, there really was nothing whatsoever to tie (Stobbe) in," defence lawyer Tim Killeen said after the verdict.

Throughout the trial, the victim's two sisters, Betty Rowbotham and Barb Kilpatrick, sat in the courtroom. They often looked at Stobbe but did not talk to him.

The trial was told Stobbe and Beverly Rowbotham were a happy couple when they lived in Regina and Stobbe worked as a senior adviser to former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow. At the age of 42, Stobbe moved the family to Manitoba for a high-ranking communications job with the recently elected NDP government of Gary Doer.

The move had been taxing for the couple, court heard. The home was in bad need of repair and a wet spring made for a terrible mosquito season that kept the family indoors. Stobbe was also spending long hours at work as the spring legislature session dragged on into summer.

But things were improving in the fall, Stobbe testified. The family was starting to make friends and he and Rowbotham had agreed to sell the house and look for a better one.

In his final instructions, the judge told jurors they were examining a puzzle with many pieces, and the onus was on the Crown to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Stobbe admitted there is still suspicion in some people's minds.

"There will always be some that are unconvinced, but I think the evidence speaks for itself and the decision speaks for itself."