03/08/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 05/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba man accused of killing wife takes stand; says he's innocent

WINNIPEG - A former political adviser accused of murdering his wife in their backyard while their two young sons slept in the house says he is innocent.

Mark Stobbe testified in his own defence at his second-degree murder trial Thursday. His lawyer asked him point-blank about the October 2000 slaying of Beverly Rowbotham.

"Did you kill Bev Rowbotham?" Tim Killeen asked.

"No, I did not," Stobbe said calmly.

"Did you clean up the yard?"

"No, I did not," Stobbe said.

"Did you move her body to Selkirk, Man?"

"No, I did not."

The Crown alleges Stobbe killed his wife by hitting her in the head numerous times with a hatchet behind their house in St. Andrews near Winnipeg. The Crown argues Stobbe then drove the body 15 kilometres north to Selkirk in an attempt to make it look like she had been robbed, then bicycled home.

The Crown has produced DNA evidence of small blood drops, hair clumps and tiny bone fragments, some of which have been shown to have come from the victim. The evidence was found in the couple's backyard and garage.

Rowbotham's body was found a few hours later in the back seat of one of the family's cars. Her head had been bludgeoned.

Stobbe faced the jury directly as he testified. He joked about his age and his appearance, which he said was "a face for radio and a voice suited for print."

The day his wife was murdered was a "profoundly normal" one, Stobbe said.

He came home from work, had dinner and helped put the kids to bed, he said.

He turned on the baseball game and Rowbotham said she wanted to return to Safeway where she had shopped earlier in the day to pick up some more groceries.

"Then she left and I never saw her again," Stobbe said, his voice breaking.

He said he heard his young son fussing so he went up to the child's room and lay down beside him. He said he fell asleep and awoke some time later to find his wife had not yet returned home.

"I was pretty sure there was something wrong but I was trying to convince myself there wasn't. I was trying to think of harmless explanations of where she could be, but I couldn't think of any."

He said he called police, hospitals and friends as he tried to find out if anyone had seen his wife.

Just as he was about to go out with a friend to look for her, an officer told him her car had been found.

"He said that they'd found the car and she was in it. She was dead and they were opening a homicide investigation," said Stobbe, who took deep breathes to compose himself.

"All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and die myself. At the same time, I (knew) I couldn't do that. There were things that had to be done. I had our children to raise."

Stobbe said he and his sister-in-law just sat there waiting for dawn.

"I was waiting for the boys to wake up, trying to figure out how I was going to tell them that they'd never see their mother again. I was waiting for dawn to start phoning people, friends relatives," he said.

"We didn't want to wake somebody up from sound sleep with this kind of news."

Earlier, Stobbe said he and Rowbotham had a good relationship.

He said he and Rowbotham became engaged and started shopping for an engagement ring in 1993. They couldn't afford the diamond Rowbotham wanted, so they bought the setting and used a cubic zirconia while Stobbe saved up for the real thing. It took him four years.

He faltered when he talked about his wife's first pregnancy in 1994.

"It's been a lot of years but I still have a little trouble with this one," he said as he teared up.

The fetus was diagnosed in the womb with a genetic disorder, so the couple decided to end the pregnancy, he said.

"It was quite a late-term abortion," he recalled. "It was actually an induced pregnancy in the maternity ward surrounded by all the other healthy babies."

They went on to have two healthy young boys, Stobbe said.

He said the couple lived relatively happily in Saskatchewan when Stobbe worked as a high-ranking adviser to former premier Roy Romanow. They moved to Winnipeg in the spring of 2000 when Stobbe was offered a high-level position with the newly elected NDP government.

Rowbotham didn't hesitate, Stobbe said.

"She was just looking forward to the move," he said. "When we first arrived, we thought we had moved to paradise."

They soon became overwhelmed with Manitoba's legendary summer mosquitoes, as well as by a plague of carpenter ants and some flooding, he testified.

"It seemed like one thing after another."

Previous testimony from Crown witnesses has suggested Rowbotham appeared stressed that summer. But no witness testified ever seeing her and Stobbe arguing.

Stobbe said things got better in late summer as the mosquitoes abated and home repairs were made.

"She was back to the fundamentally happy and cheerful woman I had known and loved for eight years," Stobbe said. "It was a much, much better time."

While his dad gave him a bicycle as a gentle hint to get in shape, Stobbe suggested he wasn't physically capable of exercising for long periods of time.

The longest trip he ever took on a bike was to the mailbox and back, he said.

"I'm a slug," he said with a smile. "I've got a lazy streak in me ... I weigh about 270 pounds. Doing exercise was something I preferred to avoid."

Stobbe was to continue his testimony Friday.