03/12/2012 12:00 EDT | Updated 03/13/2012 04:09 EDT

Mark Stobbe: Former Political Adviser Accused Of Killing Wife Beverly Rowbotham Grilled At Winnipeg Trial

WINNIPEG - Accused murderer Mark Stobbe stood firm under cross-examination Monday as the Crown suggested his marriage was deteriorating in the weeks before his wife was brutally killed.

Crown attorney Wendy Dawson repeatedly pointed to Stobbe's long hours at work, the family's move from Regina to Winnipeg and other issues as sources of stress on his wife, Beverly Rowbotham.

"I'm going to suggest to you that Bev was stressed out ... she was extremely stressed," Dawson said.

Stobbe testified his job as a senior political adviser to the Manitoba government sometimes required him to work from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., but Rowbotham was used to it.

"I think it would be fair to say that she wanted me around more, but ... she understood that the long hours were part and parcel of my job," Stobbe said.

"She never made a suggestion to me that I change my career."

Stobbe is accused of killing his wife with a hatchet in the couple's backyard in St. Andrew's, Man., in October 2000. The couple and their two sons had moved from Regina that spring, where Stobbe worked as a top adviser to former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow.

Court has already heard that the couple faced many challenges after moving for Stobbe's new job with the recently elected NDP government of Gary Doer. The house was in bad need of repair, the sprawling rural property made the family feel isolated and Stobbe was putting in long hours as a spring legislature session dragged on.

The Crown's theory is that all the stress took a toll on Rowbotham, and the couple ended up in a fatal argument in their backyard.

Dawson tried to get Stobbe to admit that his wife was under severe stress, but Stobbe instead used words such as "concern." At one point, he laughed.

"Is there some reason you're laughing?" Dawson asked.

"Yes, it's (your) determination ... to put a spin on what I think has been put clearly by myself," Stobbe replied.

Stobbe was turned slightly away from the Crown as he was questioned Monday. He looked at the jury, the floor or the back of the courtroom rather than at Dawson.

The Crown has called more than 70 witnesses since the second-degree murder trial started at the end of January. The witnesses have presented circumstantial evidence, such as DNA evidence that showed blood, hair and small bone fragments of the victim that were found in the family's backyard.

But there were no witnesses to Rowbotham's death and no one has even testified that the couple fought. Rowbotham's body was found in one of the family's cars in a parking lot in Selkirk, 15 kilometres from the family home.

The Crown alleges Stobbe drove his wife's body to Selkirk, then bicycled back home to report her missing.

Stobbe told police he fell asleep while his wife went on a late-night grocery run and awoke around 2:30 a.m. to find her still gone.

The Crown accused him Monday of making up that story, because Rowbotham had gone shopping earlier in the day and had purchased more than $100 in food.

"What you've done is concocted a story," Dawson levelled at Stobbe.

"I've concocted no story," Stobbe replied.

Dawson also tried to get Stobbe to admit that, despite his girth, he was capable of riding a bicycle for 15 kilometres.

"I'm going to suggest to you that it was possible for you," Dawson said.

"I've got no idea. I haven't tried it since the 80s," Stobbe replied.

Stobbe told court he doesn't know his weight, but wears pants with a 48-inch waist. In 2000, his pants had a 44-inch waist.

Several Crown witnesses have testified they saw a large man riding a bicycle in the area on the night of Rowbotham's death, but none could identify Stobbe as the person they saw.