Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stobbe murder trial hears from surprise witness

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Mark Stobbe says he was asleep in his home at the time his wife was killed. But a witness has come forward claiming he saw Stobbe -- or someone built just like him -- at the scene where Beverly Rowbotham's body was dumped.

"That's him," Garry Beaton said Friday while pointing out Stobbe in the courtroom.

It was a surprising development in what has been touted as a circumstantial case. Jurors were previously told the Crown had no eyewitness evidence against Stobbe, who has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the Oct. 25, 2000 killing of Rowbotham.

Stobbe is accused of hitting his wife in the head 16 times with either a hatchet or an axe, transferring her body from the backyard of their St. Andrews home to his car and then parking the vehicle in Selkirk. The Crown's theory is Stobbe bicycled back to his house from Selkirk.

Beaton was also cycling home from his evening shift in Selkirk in October 2000 when he spotted a vehicle in a car lot. He knew the owners of the business and initially thought it was one of them. Upon closer inspection he realized he didn't recognize the person sitting in the driver's seat of the light-coloured vehicle, which had its headlights on.

"I could see it was a bigger built person, a male," said Beaton, who weighed about 260 pounds at the time. He told jurors Friday the man he saw was even larger. "It looked like he had on a big bulky jacket," he said. Beaton added the man had a long nose and wavy hair.

"It looked like he was slouched over by the steering wheel, like he was looking for something, thinking of something," he said.

Beaton believes the night in question was the same night Rowbotham was killed, but said he can't be 100 per cent certain. Beaton said he waited until 2004 before going to police, believing what he saw that night wasn't likely relevant to the homicide. But when police issued another appeal for information on the unsolved case, Beaton says he stepped forward.

Stobbe's lawyer, Tim Killeen, suggested Beaton has become confused about what he saw because it was more than 11 years ago. He asked Beaton whether it might have been a woman he saw in the vehicle.

"A man's build is different than a lady's," Beaton replied. Still, he conceded he didn't have his glasses on that night and was only viewing a silhouette from a distance. He said he may have only looked at the shadowy figure for between 10 and 90 seconds total.

His evidence prompted a warning to jurors from Queen's Bench Justice Chris Martin about the nature and value of Beaton's testimony.

"The case against Mr. Stobbe is circumstantial. You must be very cautious on relying on eyewitness testimony to find Mr. Stobbe guilty. In the past there have been miscarriages of justice, persons have been wrongfully convicted, because so-called eyewitnesses have made mistakes in identifying persons they believe responsible," said Martin. He described Beaton's testimony as "very generic, very sparse."

Jurors have already heard a 69-minute interview Stobbe gave to police in the hours after Rowbotham's body was found. He claims to have fallen asleep watching a baseball game on television after Rowbotham left the home to complete a grocery shopping trip that had been cut short earlier in the day. He said he awoke around 2:30 a.m. to find only himself and their two children in the residence. That set off a series of frantic phone calls to police, the hospital and family and friends.

Stobbe admitted to some marital issues with Rowbotham, especially after they moved to St. Andrews, north of Winnipeg, from Regina earlier that summer after Stobbe landed a communications job with the provincial NDP government.

He said Rowbotham was "unhappy" for the first few weeks, largely due to the constant rainfall and mosquitoes. Stobbe said they had gone to marriage counselling on three occasions in Regina, but they stopped because they were doing so well.

Jurors also heard RCMP monitored Stobbe in the days following the killing, even following him to Saskatchewan for his wife's funeral.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 18, 2012 A5

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