Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Prosecution of Stobbe raises questions

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The prosecution of Mark Stobbe for the slaying of his wife may not have been an abuse of process in the narrowest legal sense -- at least that's what a judge ruled during a motion to enter a stay of proceedings -- but it raises enough red flags to give pause about whether the public interest and justice were served.

The jury decided there was no evidence to find Mr. Stobbe guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, despite nearly 100 witnesses and a relentless, even abusive, cross-examination.

Manitoba Justice may believe the ruling of Mr. Justice Chris Martin on the dismissal notion exonerates it from suspicion of wrongdoing, but his decision on technical questions of law should not be the last word on the public interest.

The broad facts are that Manitoba Justice referred the case to an Alberta Crown attorney in 2002 for a review. After consulting two other Crowns, the unanimous decision was there wasn't enough evidence to charge Mr. Stobbe.

Unsatisfied, the province referred the case to another Crown attorney in Alberta, who returned the same verdict. RCMP were even advised to wait a few years and then conduct an undercover sting, but that advice was rejected, too.

That's where it should have ended, but the RCMP and Manitoba Justice referred the case yet again, this time to British Columbia, claiming there was new evidence and a re-analysis of known facts.

There was no new evidence, but RCMP and Manitoba officials got what they wanted anyway when a Crown attorney said the case was worth prosecuting. This was the same prosecutor who had opposed a media application for the release of court documents when charges were laid in 2008, but who never disclosed his role in recommending charges, a fact the judge called regrettable.

If all of this doesn't add up to prosecutor-shopping, it's hard to imagine a case that would.

It is not enough to believe someone probably committed murder, yet it seems RCMP and justice officials were obsessed with prosecuting at any cost and in defiance of the evidence and the advice of four independent Crown attorneys in Alberta.

In the end, it seems the jury had a better sense of justice than the people who are paid to ensure it is done.

Justice Minister Andrew Swan should review the 12-year-old file to ensure a similar spectacle isn't repeated in the future.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2012 A16

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