A jury has found Mark Stobbe, a former political adviser to the Manitoba and Saskatchewan governments, not guilty in the slaying of his wife, Beverly Rowbotham.

Stobbe, 53, was accused of second-degree murder in Rowbotham's death in October 2000 at the family home near Selkirk, Man.

During the trial in Winnipeg Court of Queen's Bench, the Crown alleged that Stobbe attacked his wife with a hatchet in their backyard, then drove her body 15 kilometres away to make it look like she had been robbed.

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Beverly Rowbotham was found dead in her car at a gas station in Selkirk, Man., in October 2000.

Stobbe sighed heavily and then reacted with a jubilant smile at the verdict, hugging members of his family.

There were gasps in the courtroom from members of Rowbotham's family.

"I wouldn't wish this on anybody," Stobbe later told reporters, thanking Judge Chris Martin for conducting a "very fair" trial.

"It was the verdict I was expecting once the judge and jury heard the full story and the facts," Stobbe said.

Stobbe, whose two sons were young at the time of their mother's death, was asked what he would do next.

He replied: "Get on with my life, raising my children."

In court, Martin told Stobbe it is now his job to take care of his sons — who are now teenagers — and keep their mother's memory alive.

Body in car

Stobbe had worked as a senior adviser to former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow before moving to Manitoba in the spring of 2000 for a new job with the recently elected NDP government of Gary Doer.

The body of Rowbotham, 42, was found inside the family car in Selkirk, Man., on Oct. 25, 2000. She had 16 chop wounds to the head, according to autopsy results presented during the trial.

The Crown contended that Stobbe struck Rowbotham repeatedly with a hatchet in the yard of their rural property in St. Andrews, Man., then drove her body to Selkirk and bicycled 15 kilometres home to report her missing.

Stobbe maintained that he fell asleep while his wife went grocery shopping at the Selkirk Safeway in the late-night hours of Oct. 24. He said he woke up a few hours later to find she had not returned.

Circumstantial case

The Crown's case was largely circumstantial: there were no witnesses and a murder weapon was never found.

Prosecutors did present DNA evidence that showed blood, hair and small bone fragments from Rowbotham were found in the couple's backyard.

Defence lawyers argued that Stobbe had no reason to kill Rowbotham, as the couple had a generally normal and happy marriage.

Unknown male DNA was found on Rowbotham's purse, suggesting that someone other than Stobbe could have been involved.

Under several days of cross-examination by the Crown, Stobbe denied killing his wife saying he did not hear anything from the backyard or garage on the night of the murder.

Crown may appeal

Stobbe's lawyer, Tim Killeen, said he had no doubt that Stobbe would be found not guilty.

"It was always clear that there was no motive whatsoever advanced, and there was no connection other than the fact that she clearly had been killed in the yard and then her body moved," Killeen said outside court.

Crown prosecutor Wendy Dawson told CBC News she will be recommending a review of the case for an appeal.

But David Asper, a law professor at the University of Manitoba, said it's unlikely that the Crown will have grounds for an appeal.

"This was an entirely circumstantial case, it's an old case," Asper said.

"Unless there was some really serious error in applying the law, I don't know how the Crown would have a basis for an appeal."

Asper said the Crown had to lay out a strong case, given the type of evidence available, but that did not happen.