Manitoba

'Curator of a house of horrors' guilty of 1st-degree murder after woman's body found in barrel

A Winnipeg jury has found Perez Cleveland guilty of first-degree murder in the case of Jennifer Barrett, 42, whose body was found in a barrel in a Winnipeg home in 2016.

After verdict, father of Jennifer Barrett describes killer Perez Cleveland as 'an animal'

Jennifer Barrett, 42, was a licensed practical nurse who was headstrong but also very loving, her family says. Perez Cleveland has been convicted of first-degree murder in connection with her 2016 death. (Submitted by Jason Barrett)

The father of Jennifer Barrett, whose body was found in a barrel at a Winnipeg home in 2016, says justice has been served after a jury found Perez Cleveland guilty of first-degree murder.

"You heard what was said in that courtroom, what type of person this man was, particularly towards women," David Barrett told reporters Wednesday night after verdict was delivered around 10 p.m. local time.

"He was not a man. He was an animal."

The body of Barrett, 42, was discovered in a barrel in the backyard of a home in Winnipeg's Waverley Heights neighbourhood on Dec. 1, 2016. The barrel was filled with chemicals meant to speed decomposition, according to police.

Police believe she had been killed more than three months before her remains were found. A DNA test confirmed her identity.

During Cleveland's trial, the jury of seven men and five women heard how he abused and manipulated Barrett and four other women — described as "sister wives" — living at the home they shared with Cleveland and his adult daughter.

Two of the women, Holley Sullivan and Jessica Reid, testified about years of physical abuse, including beatings with meat cleavers, extension cords, hammers and golf clubs. 

Watch Jennifer Barrett's father David Barrett speak to reporters after the jury gives its verdict:

David Barrett addressed reporters in Winnipeg after Perez Cleveland was found guilty in the 1st-degree murder of Barrett's daughter, Jennifer Barrett, in 2016. 1:34

They told court Cleveland, 46, kept Jennifer in the home's basement in the summer of 2016, punishing her for days before she died because he believed she was cheating on him.

In his victim impact statement, read in court by Crown prosecutor Chris Vanderhooft, David Barrett wrote about his daughter's birth and how he had vowed to protect her his whole life.

"It was like having my insides ripped out and the pain doesn't stop. I cry every night," he wrote."I was not there to protect her, when she was crying, screaming, begging for her life."

Outside court, David told reporters his daughter was a bright, caring person who loved loud music and looking after people.

"I miss her. I always will miss her," he said.

"I expected my daughter to come home one day. But I did not expect her to be delivered by the postal service in a black box and in a plastic bag."

'You deserve every second': judge

The conviction came just hours after the jury began deliberations in Winnipeg's Court of Queen's Bench on Wednesday afternoon. It carries a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

"You were a curator of a house of horrors. And the features were cruelty, abuse, intimidation and fear," Chief Justice Glenn Joyal told Cleveland.

"You deserve every second, every minute, every month of that 25-year sentence."

Perez Adaryll Cleveland was charged in connection with Barrett's death in February 2017. He was already facing 55 other charges at the time of his arrest. (Winnipeg Police Service)

Cleveland didn't testify in the two-week trial, which began on May 14. Crown prosecutors said Monday he was expected to testify, but opted not to.

During the trial, Crown prosecutor Breta Passler painted a picture of a home with a bizarre dynamic, where Cleveland lived with multiple women he abused and controlled.

Four of the women — Sullivan, 30, Reid, 36, Kelsie Jones, 23, and Renee Rose — described in their testimony how they were abused by Cleveland and about his controlling behaviour.

Cleveland trafficked meth, they said, and used drugs and their fear to compel them to do his bidding and keep them from running away.

Reid testified that in 2016, she saw Barrett emerge from a basement laundry room, where Cleveland had been beating her. Barrett had blood on her temples and stumbled, then sat on the toilet before falling off.

Barrett's body was found in December 2016 in a barrel in the backyard of a Waverley Heights home. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

She said Cleveland poured water on her and then shocked her thigh with a Taser. She did not get up. 

Reid and Sullivan testified Cleveland told them to dispose of Barrett's body, so they bought the supplies to do that — including a barrel and chemicals.

Sullivan and Reid were both charged in February 2017 with accessory after the fact to murder. Sullivan pleaded guilty and is serving a three-year sentence. Reid pleaded not guilty and faces trial in January.

'I'm going to get a good night's sleep tonight'

Barrett and Cleveland met and dated in Sudbury, Ont., but broke up in the 1990s, her brother, Jason Barrett, told CBC News last year. 

Jason said Cleveland and his sister, a licensed practical nurse and mother, connected again and she moved from Sudbury in 2012, eventually landing in Winnipeg. Barrett's son, now 20, chose to stay in Sudbury with his grandparents, he said.

"He misses his mom," said Dave Barrett.

Members of Barrett's family — including her father, aunts and an uncle — as well as close family friends sat in the gallery each day of the trial. 

The family of Jennifer Barrett, front row, aunt Lorraine Phelan, left, father David Barrett, centre, and aunt Madeline Quelle, right, along with two cousins in the back row, speak outside court after Wednesday night's verdict in Barrett's murder. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"Justice has now been served," Jason wrote in his statement read by aunt Madeline Quelle. "I hurt every day, but now, just a little less."

David Barrett said his wife, Barrett's mother, Liette, couldn't attend the trial because of difficulty travelling. Jason couldn't attend the trial because it was too painful, he said.

But he said the verdict brought relief and a measure of closure to the family.

"I phoned my son, and he says, 'Dad … I think I'm going to get a good night's sleep tonight.'"

Cleveland is set to stand trial again in 2020, Crown prosecutors say, for 55 other charges laid in December 2016, two months before he was charged in connection with Barrett's death. The charges include assault with a weapon, parole violations, possession of a weapon and uttering threats.

The jury did not hear about Cleveland's past charges and convictions during the trial.

Madeline Quelle holds photos of her niece Jennifer Barrett outside court Wednesday night after Perez Cleveland was found guilty of first-degree murder in Barrett's 2016 death. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
David Barrett and his family react to the verdict outside court Thursday night. 2:53