Stobbe trial shown photos of wife hours before her death

Jurors looked at surveillance photos Tuesday of Beverly Rowbotham grocery shopping with her youngest son, just hours before she was brutally assaulted and killed.

Jurors looked at surveillance photos Tuesday of a woman grocery shopping with her youngest son just hours before she was brutally assaulted and killed.

As the photos were played on a large courtroom screen, the man accused of killing Beverly Rowbotham — her husband Mark Stobbe — twice removed his glasses and wiped his face with one hand.

Mark Stobbe is charged with second-degree murder in the death of his wife, Beverly Rowbotham. (CBC)

A few metres away in the public gallery, one of Rowbotham's sisters looked over at him, her face expressionless.

The pictures are a key piece of evidence in the second-degree murder trial of Stobbe, a high-ranking political adviser who had worked for NDP governments in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Multiple Crown witnesses have testified that Stobbe told them his wife disappeared the night of Oct. 24, 2000, while on her way to the Safeway grocery store in Selkirk, Man.

Stobbe said his wife had to run the evening errand because she had been at the store that afternoon, but had to leave because her youngest son was acting up.

The photos show Rowbotham, dressed in a pink sweater and blue jeans, spending 46 minutes inside the store that afternoon. While she was not continuously on camera, the images that were captured show her browsing through the store, with no apparent trouble from her son.

Walked through store with son

She spent several minutes looking at Halloween costumes, spent a minute or two looking at a variety of bagels and travelled back and forth down the meat aisle.

"It would appear she's looking at various meat products," Crown attorney Wendy Dawson asked of Linda Fortne, who was the store's assistant manager at the time.

Beverly Rowbotham was found dead in her car at a gas station near Selkirk, Man. (CBC)

"Yes," Fortne replied.

Rowbotham's son is seen sitting in the grocery cart at first, then walking alongside it. At one point, the preschooler wanders over to a candy display, then returns.

At 3:18 p.m., the two are seen leaving the store.

Rowbotham was found dead in her car in Selkirk, not far from the store, early the following morning. Her head had been bludgeoned.

Crown witnesses have said Stobbe told them he had fallen asleep while Rowbotham, after having put her two sons to bed, decided to return to the grocery store sometime after 8 p.m.

The Crown alleges Stobbe killed his wife in a heated argument in the backyard of their sprawling rural home near Winnipeg by hitting her in the head 16 times with a hatchet.

He then dragged her body to a car in the garage, drove 15 kilometres to Selkirk, then bicycled back home and reported his wife missing sometime after 2:30 a.m., the Crown alleges.

Case largely circumstantial

The case is largely circumstantial. The Crown has produced DNA evidence to show that several blood drops, bone fragments and other material linked to Rowbotham were found in the backyard.

But there are no witnesses who saw Stobbe and his wife argue.

The family had moved to Manitoba four months before Rowbotham's death. Stobbe had been a senior adviser to Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, and had been hired as a communications consultant for Manitoba's new NDP government.

"Mark was a brilliant strategist … very good at market research and a pretty good writer," Bob Dewar told the court Tuesday. Dewar was chief of staff to former Manitoba premier Gary Doer, and worked long hours alongside Stobbe.

"None of us worked 9-to-5," Dewar said. "Sometimes you were working late into the evenings. Sometimes there were early mornings."

In her opening statement, Dawson said Stobbe and Rowbotham were a happy couple in Saskatchewan, but faced a tremendous amount of stress after moving. Stobbe worked long hours, she said, and their home had structural, plumbing and insect problems.

Rowbotham looked 'occupied,' says neighbour

A neighbour testified Tuesday that Rowbotham appeared "occupied" and distant in the summer of 2000.

"Her appearance seemed very slumped and … she never looked up to make eye contact," recalled Arlene Woodcock, who lived across the street.

But neither Woodcock nor Danna Debnar, who lived beside Stobbe, heard or saw anything suspicious the night of Rowbotham's death.

Earlier on Tuesday, Justice Chris Martin said one of the jurors could not be located and had been dismissed.

The matter briefly delayed the trial, which was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. in Winnipeg. Proceedings resumed at about 11 a.m.

There are now 13 jurors left.

Typically, there are 12 members in a jury but 14 were chosen for the Stobbe trial. Recent changes to the Criminal Code allow for larger juries in so-called mega-trials to ensure a minimum of 12 remain at the end.

The Stobbe trial, which started Jan. 30, is scheduled to run until the end of March.