A former government adviser in Manitoba and Saskatchewan killed his wife by hitting her with a hatchet 16 times, then drove her body to a parking lot, a Crown attorney told a jury in Winnipeg.

Wendy Dawson presented her opening arguments as the second-degree murder trial for Mark Stobbe got underway on Monday.

Stobbe, who worked as a senior adviser to former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow before moving to Manitoba for a job with the provincial government, is accused of killing his wife, Beverley Rowbotham, in October 2000. He has pleaded not guilty.

Investigators believe Rowbotham, 42, was beaten to death in the backyard of her home in St. Andrews, Man., just north of Winnipeg.

Rowbotham was found dead in her car at a gas station near Selkirk, Man. Two of her fingers and part of her skull were chopped off, Dawson said.

Dawson said she will present evidence to show Stobbe tried to cover up the killing by putting his wife's body in the car, driving it to a parking lot, and returning home by bicycle to report her missing.

Marital problems

Stobbe's trial just completed two weeks of legal motions and now goes before a jury with testimony.

Dawson said Stobbe and Rowbotham had marital problems after they moved to the Winnipeg area from Regina. A final, violent argument erupted on the lawn of their home in October 2000, Dawson said.

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Mark Stobbe, seen in a file photo from 2008, is accused in the death of his wife, Beverley Rowbotham. (CBC)

On Monday, the Crown painted a picture of two professional people who had a good marriage and could be seen happily playing with their children in Saskatchewan.

But things started to unravel when they moved to Manitoba early in 2000. Problems with the house and Stobbe working long hours led to the couple's stress, Dawson said.

"There were some small cracks developing in the relationship," Dawson said.

"In stark contrast to Regina, neighbours did not observe the couple playing happily with their children on the front lawn."

Stobbe, who has always maintained his innocence, told investigators that Rowbotham had gone out grocery shopping that evening. He said he had fallen asleep, only to wake up after midnight to find her still gone.

After his wife's death, Stobbe and his sons moved back to Saskatoon, where he has lived ever since.

Forensic expert testifies

The Crown indicated that it will rely on circumstantial evidence and 76 witnesses in a trial that is slated to last until the end of March.

The Crown will point to what it says are inconsistencies in what Stobbe told police, friends and relatives in the days following Rowbotham's death.

The first witness to testify on Monday was an RCMP forensics expert who examined the car after Rowbotham's body was discovered.

Insp. Charles Bruce Prange told the court that there was blood in the back seat and on the ground under the rear passenger door.

But he added that there was a lack of blood spatter inside the car, which immediately struck him as suspicious.

"We thought this could possibly be a site where the body had been transported to after [the death]," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press