4 reasons why Mark Stobbe was acquitted

Mark Stobbe's lawyer, Tim Killeen, tells CBC News why he believes the jury was not swayed by the Crown's case in Stobbe's second-degree murder trial.

Stobbe should not have been charged, says lawyer

Mark Stobbe speaks to reporters outside the Winnipeg courthouse after the jury's verdict was handed down on Thursday. (CBC)

After a two-month trial involving more than 80 witnesses, the jury in the Mark Stobbe trial had a big job sifting through all the evidence.

The Crown claimed that Stobbe, 53, attacked his wife, Beverly Rowbotham, 42, with a hatchet in the yard of their rural property in St. Andrews, Man., in October 2000.

But jurors did not buy the Crown's argument, as they found Stobbe not guilty of second-degree murder in Rowbotham's death on Thursday.

In an interview with CBC News, Stobbe's attorney, Tim Killeen, said that before Stobbe was arrested in 2008, RCMP sent a 20,000 page case file to prosecutors in Alberta asking if there was enough evidence to lay a murder charge. Four Alberta prosecutors said there wasn't sufficient evidence against Stobbe.

But then the case file was sent to another lawyer in British Columbia who offered a contrary opinion. Killeen said despite that opinion, a charge should never have been laid against Stobbe since the report contained no new evidence.

"The difficulty with deciding to prosecute this case was that you had the entire community left with the impression that there was something new or different or more substantial than there had been before, and there wasn't."

Killeen offered at least four reasons why, once the case went to trial, the jury wasn't swayed.

1. Lack of motive

There was no compelling reason put forward as to why Stobbe would want to kill his wife. The Crown argued that it was a crime of passion — the culmination of serious tensions in their marriage.

But the best that prosecutors could offer by way of evidence was her annoyance with mosquitoes around their new home in St. Andrews.

Killeen argued that mosquitoes — no matter how vexing they can be — were unlikely to trigger a murderous rage.

2. The problem with the cyclist

The Crown maintained that Stobbe killed Rowbotham late in the evening of Oct. 24, 2000, in their backyard, then drove the body to an abandoned service station near Selkirk, Man., then bicycled 15 kilometres home to report her missing.

Prosecutors produced a dozen witnesses who said they had seen a man of Stobbe's large stature riding a bike south on Highway 9. However, their accounts varied as to time and place.

Defence lawyers cast doubt on whether any of these sightings occurred during the period when Stobbe's car was parked at the service station.

3. The other eyewitness

One man created a stir in court when he declared that he had seen Stobbe in his car at the abandoned service station.

But under cross-examination, the man admitted that it was dark, the man in question was in silhouette, he had seen him for only 10 seconds, and he was not wearing his glasses at the time.

This caused Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Chris Martin to advise the jury to discount the man's testimony.

4. The mysterious DNA

Investigators had found a small amount of DNA from an unknown male on Rowbotham's purse, raising the suggestion that Rowbotham may have been robbed by a stranger.

The Crown claimed it could have come from incidental contact of the purse with a shopping cart in a supermarket, or even a sneeze.

But the DNA was found on the purse's clasp and strap, suggesting that the unknown male had actually handled it.