Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mark Stobbe always denied killing his wife

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It wasn't a Kennedy assassination moment or a 9/11 moment. But I remember the day 12 years ago when news came on the radio that a body had been found in a car in Selkirk.

Call it premonition -- you wonder where they come from -- but I thought: "Who do I know in Selkirk?" And in that instant, Mark Stobbe bounced to mind. We'd bumped into each other a few days earlier and he mentioned he'd recently bought a home in St. Andrews, not far from Selkirk.

I met Stobbe in the mid-1990s when he was a political operative in Roy Romanow's Saskatchewan government. Stobbe was impressively large and friendly and helpful to an interloping newspaper reporter trying to get a feel for the political imperatives in a neighbouring province. I was a bit surprised in September 2000 to see him on the streets of Winnipeg and to hear he was now working for Gary Doer.

Later, on that memorable October day, when I got to my office in the Globe and Mail bureau in downtown Winnipeg, more details trickled out about the body in the car in Selkirk. It was Bev Rowbotham, wife of Mark Stobbe, senior communications adviser to the Manitoba government.

It was surreal, as I reflexively called Mark's home to commiserate. I could not believe what I had heard, I told him. "It's shitty," he admitted in his understated Stobbe-esque way.

Of course, I knew, and he knew that I knew, that suspicion would fall on him for the killing. Nine times in 10 it's the husband, out of anger. Until he was ruled out as a suspect, Stobbe would have to be the RCMP's main man.

Since Bev Rowbotham's body was found some distance from the family home and the story was that Bev had failed to return home after a late-evening shop in Selkirk for groceries, we were being asked to believe she was attacked and killed in a random act by an unknown perpetrator. Not very likely, but not 100 per cent impossible either, I thought. At that time, I did not know Bev was killed in the backyard of the family home. Nor did I know Bev had been bludgeoned repeatedly with a hatchet or hammer -- apparently 16 times -- in an emotional outburst.

Before long, Mark was suspended from his job and operated a candy route to support the couple's two young boys. Suspicion hung over him and I felt some sympathy: If the guy is innocent, he's tragically lost his wife. I tried to buck him up and we had lunch a few times in the months that followed.

Several times I asked him if he killed Bev and, just as he repeatedly told jurors at the murder trial, he steadfastly denied it. As police leaked selective details of the case to the media, Mark had explanations for things that might cast suspicion. Why did Bev need to go shopping when the family fridge was full of food? The fridge was full of food because family members, friends and neighbours all brought food in the hours and days after the murder.

Months passed and Mark seemed bitter that the focus of the RCMP investigation appeared to be only on himself as a suspect. He mentioned that around the time of Bev's killing, a woman driving on a rural road near Selkirk had been attacked by two hammer-wielding women who tried to rob her as they pretended their car had broken down. How coincidental is that? Why weren't the Mounties chasing down that possible lead?

After late 2002, Mark moved back to Saskatchewan and we lost contact.

In 2008 he was charged with second-degree murder after police shopped around for a prosecutor who would support a charge on the strength of not much more than suspicion.

Finally, last month, after a seven-week trial and 12 years under a cloud, Mark Stobbe was found not guilty in the death of his wife, Beverly Rowbotham.

Personally, I'm relieved and impressed that 12 citizen jurors reached this wise conclusion.

From what I could glean from news reports of the trial, there wasn't evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mark Stobbe was connected to the killing. Oh, you may have your suspicions. But our justice system requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt to send someone away.

So a finding of not guilty was the correct verdict in law.

In the end, Mark Stobbe may be the only person who knows whether it was correct in fact.

David Roberts is a Winnipeg painter and former journalist.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 20, 2012 A15

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