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A 42-year-old woman was killed in the basement of a suburban south Winnipeg home because of "one man's control" over his multiple wives, prosecutors told a jury Tuesday.
"Much of the evidence you will be hearing is bizarre and disturbing," Crown prosecutor Breta Passler told a Court of Queen's Bench jury of seven men and five women at the beginning of the first-degree murder trial for 46-year-old Perez Adaryll Cleveland, who pleaded not guilty in the August 2016 death of 42-year-old Jennifer Barrett.
Barrett was one of Cleveland's five "wives," the jury was told. Her decomposed remains were discovered doused in industrial-strength chemicals inside a metal barrel outside 38 Forest Lake Drive during a police search of the two-storey home on Dec. 1, 2016.
Although the allegations against him haven't been proven — it will be up to the jury to decide what happened — Cleveland is accused of beating Barrett to death and ordering two other women to dispose of her body. He believed Barrett was cheating on him, Passler told the jury. The criminal allegations came to light after one of the women who was living with Cleveland managed to escape and report his abuse.
"Underlying those lurid facts is a story of a man whose control kept a number of adult women in an abusive and violent situation, some for years," Passler said during her opening statement to jurors.
"A man whose control led them to to do uncomfortable, embarrassing and, sometimes, unthinkable acts at his behest. Ultimately, we say this case is about a man's jealousy and his reaction to a possible loss of control, resulting in the death of Jennifer Barrett."
The four other women Cleveland considered to be his "wives" are expected to testify during his trial. Passler told the jury he moved to Winnipeg in 2014 with his adult daughter, and three women, including Barrett. Barrett began her relationship with Cleveland when he was living in Ontario. They had been together since at least May 30, 2013, according to a handwritten contract between Barrett and Cleveland the Winnipeg Police Service found during a search of the basement of the Waverley Heights home they rented.
WPS forensic identification unit officer Const. Jason Dee took the contract out of its evidence bag and held up the single piece of worn lined paper for the jury to see.
While Barrett's family watched from the courtroom gallery, the jury also saw photos of Barrett's remains, soldified in chemicals, that police discovered in a sealed metal barrel that remained at the side of the two-storey house long after Cleveland and the other women abandoned the property. DNA tests confirmed the human remains belonged to Barrett.
When she moved into the house July 1, 2016, Barrett told the landlord, Dennis Wiebe, that she was a nurse at St. Boniface Hospital who would be living with her husband, "Paul Barrett," and her daughter. Wiebe testified he met Jennifer Barrett in person three times, but never saw her after a meeting in early August 2016. The rent hadn't been paid, and Wiebe testified Barrett and another woman paid him $2,000 in cash, with "more promises of other money to come."
Wiebe testified he later found out a litter of pug puppies had been bred in the home and was being kept there along with another dog, a cat and a rabbit, in spite of a no-pets policy. He was trying to evict the tenants over unpaid rent when he deemed the house abandoned on Nov. 1, 2016 and changed the locks.
Wiebe and his son-in-law had already cleared out the belongings on the main floor of the six-bedroom house and were about to finish in the basement when police got a search warrant. They had already disposed of of junk in the backyard, but they left the metal barrel because it was too heavy, Wiebe testified.
The prosecution believes Barrett was killed in the basement, which Cleveland was using as his bedroom.
Cleveland was taking notes from the prisoner's box Tuesday and presenting them to his defence lawyer, Steven Brennan.
The trial, before Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, is scheduled to continue over the next three weeks.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.