Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 03/25/2013 1:00 AM
Eleven years ago, I called Mark Stobbe and asked for an interview. He got back to me this week.
He recalled our early conversation in an email. It went something like this.
Me: "You probably really don't want to talk to me right now."
Stobbe: "That's right."
Lindor: "I'm sorry to have bothered you. Give me a call if you ever do want to talk."
"This brief exchange stuck in my mind," Stobbe wrote. "In a dozen years of dealing with the media over a matter intensely personal and painful, you were the only member of the media (aside from a few personal friends) who seemed to put some awareness of compassion and empathy ahead of simply getting a story."
He felt he owed me an interview, he said in his email.
So there he was, large as life and wanting to chat. His circumstances have changed. Then, his wife, Beverly Rowbotham, had been dead for two years and many people in this province believed he killed her. Now, he's been acquitted of her 2000 slaying and has a book to sell. A lot of people still believe he killed her.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Stobbe talked about his time in two remand centres (the springboard for his criminal-justice book), his teenage sons, the stink of guilt that still follows him and the resumption of his dating life. He often punctuates his sentences with laughter, a "heh-heh-heh" that is sometimes incongruous with the topic.
"I obviously didn't go to jail with the thought of using it as a book opportunity," he says.
"The reason I wrote the book started out essentially with the question, 'Why is it people get along so well as they do in here?'
"It's not a place where I ever expected to find myself. I think that the moment of going in it was more numb than terrified. The shock of arrest is the real phenomenon."
Rowbotham was murdered in the couple's St. Andrews backyard and moved to the family car in the garage. The car was later found in a Selkirk parking lot. She had been struck in the head with a hatchet or axe 16 times. Stobbe has always maintained he was asleep in the house at the time of the slaying.
Stobbe was arrested on a DNA warrant in May 2001. Police took a blood sample, which Stobbe says he knew would exonerate him. He was finally charged with second-degree murder in 2008.
Stobbe was living in Saskatchewan with his two sons when he was brought back to Winnipeg and jailed. He took a six-month leave from his job with an arts organization. He never returned and has been unemployed since his acquittal.
He's broke. The family home was sold to pay legal bills, although Stobbe still owes plenty. His government pension plan was drained. He said he supports his boys on student loans he got to pursue a master's degree.
"Basically the process plucked me like a chicken in terms of finances," he said.
"After the trial I was essentially unemployable." He briefly considered seeking compensation but has been advised that only applies to people wrongly convicted.
He was found not guilty. The Stobbe name is infamous in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
"Sometimes someone will say, 'Wait, have we met before? Your name is really familiar.' If it's a clerk in a store, I don't say anything. If it's someone where there's the potential I'll have to deal with them in the future, I'll say you're probably thinking of this..."
"It can be a conversation-stopper."
He says his boys, now 16 and 17, are "good, healthy, happy, well-adjusted boys.
"I don't want them to be victims. They're not. They're not showing evidence of angst and trauma. They've coped well.
"They should just be allowed to go and live their life."
They talk about their mother and there are photos of Bev in the house.
"My struggle is to remember her in our life and not be consumed by the horror of the murder and the aftermath."
But Stobbe has lost many friends. His in-laws believe he's guilty.
"What I find is, strangely enough, I was out on bail for four years and found incomparably more closed doors and avenues closed and people not wanting to talk to me after my acquittal then after I was charged.
"It was that after I was charged and waiting for trial, a lot of people could feel virtuous. 'Well, he's innocent until proven guilty.' After I'm acquitted, it's 'Well, what do I really think?' "
His laugh rat-a-tats across the phone line.
He knows some people think he got away with murder.
"I won't even bother saying that I didn't because that won't convince those people," he said. "Only 19 people in the world heard all the evidence that was presented in the court. I was acquitted. I think arguing with the decision is showing contempt for the jury."
Stobbe said he had a great marriage and he was a blessed man. He has dated since his exoneration but hasn't clicked with anyone.
"There's age, there's circumstances... I've got my own set of peculiar baggage here."
He's defiant at the end of our chat.
"It seems to get compensation you have to show how much you've been victimized and I'm not willing to do that. Yeah, I'm broke but I'm not going to spend the next two or three years brooding over how much the experience harmed me. I'd rather get on with my life."
Lessons From Remand is not about Bev Rowbotham or her slaying. It won't make Stobbe rich and he is already infamous. He's making lemonade and knows it will leave a sour taste in some people's mouths.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 25, 2013 B1
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