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Mark Stobbe has pleaded not guilty to killing his wife, Beverley Rowbotham, in October, 2008. ((CBC))

A former top Saskatchewan government adviser accused of killing his wife was in a Winnipeg courtroom on Monday for the start of a preliminary inquiry to test the evidence the Crown has against him.

Mark Stobbe, 52, is charged with second-degree murder in connection to the death of his wife, Beverley Rowbotham. He has always maintained his innocence.

A publication ban prevents the reporting of any evidence heard during the preliminary hearings, which are expected to last three weeks. If the presiding judge decides there's enough evidence for Stobbe to stand trial, proceedings could begin as early as June or July.

Stobbe was arrested in May 2008, nearly eight years after Rowbotham was found dead in her car at a gas station near Selkirk, Man. in October 2000. Investigators said they believed she had been beaten to death in the backyard of her home in nearby St. Andrews, then moved to Selkirk.

Stobbe, a one time top adviser to former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, has been out on bail and living in Saskatoon since June 24, 2008.

Stobbe, Rowbotham and their sons moved to Manitoba from Regina about five months before Rowbotham's death, when Stobbe accepted a senior job on the Manitoba cabinet's community and economic development committee.

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

Manitoba Justice has hired independent Crown counsel from B.C. to prosecute Stobbe because of his past government positions.

At the time Rowbotham died, Stobbe told investigators she had left the family home to go grocery shopping about 8:30 p.m. the day before her body was found. He had fallen asleep with their two sons, then five and three years old, he said, and called police at 1:30 a.m., when she hadn't returned home.