WINNIPEG — A man has been convicted of killing a woman whose body was found in a barrel in the backyard of a home they shared with several other women.
A jury decided Wednesday that Perez Cleveland, 46, is guilty of first-degree murder in the 2016 death of 42-year-old Jennifer Barrett.
The trial had heard that Cleveland shared a house in Winnipeg with his adult daughter and five women, who were described by one of them as “sister wives.”
“Mr. Cleveland controlled every aspect of that home that he called his kingdom,” Crown prosecutor Breta Passler said during closing arguments Tuesday.
Passler told the jury that Cleveland exploited the women’s unique vulnerabilities and drug addictions. Four of the women testified that he was initially charming but soon turned psychologically and physically abusive.
Woman tried to escape, court heard
The defence argued that while Cleveland may not have been a good partner, there was no evidence that proved he caused Barrett’s death.
Defence lawyer Steve Brennan had questioned why there were no police or hospital records reflecting the abuse the women described. He suggested to the jury that one of the women was jealous of Barrett’s relationship with Cleveland and acted violently toward Barrett.
Court also heard that because of the body’s decomposition, there was no way to know what caused Barrett’s death.
The Crown said Cleveland became fixated on the idea that Barrett had cheated on him that summer and tortured her for days until she died.
One of the women testified that Barrett had tried to escape, she was covered in bruises and could not lift her arms above her head.
Jessica Reid, 36, told court she saw Barrett stumble out of the basement’s laundry room and fall to the floor. Cleveland used a Taser on Barrett to try to get her moving, Reid said. The woman’s body jolted, but no other movement followed.
Holley Sullivan, 30, told jurors that Cleveland’s favourite phrase was: “If you cannot listen, then you must feel.”
When Cleveland asked her and Reid to dispose of Barrett’s body, they complied, Sullivan said. They put her body in the barrel with a mix of drain cleaner and water, and heated it up with a blowtorch to speed up decomposition.
Sullivan is serving time after pleading guilty for her role in hiding Barrett’s body. Reid also faces charges, but her case has not yet gone to trial.
“He probably could have told me to try and catch the sun and I would have done it,” Sullivan said.