Jennifer Barrett was 1 of accused's 5 wives, Day 1 of murder trial hears

The four surviving wives of Perez Cleveland will testify against him, court heard Tuesday, as the murder trial in the 2016 death of Jennifer Barrett began in Winnipeg.

Prosecutor says jealousy, need for control led accused Perez Cleveland to kill Barrett

Jennifer Barrett was 42 when her body was found in a drum behind a home in Waverley Heights. (Submitted by Jason Barrett)

The four surviving wives of Perez Cleveland will testify against him, court heard Tuesday, as the murder trial in the 2016 death of Jennifer Barrett began in Winnipeg.

Crown prosecutor Breta Passler told the 12-person jury the three-week trial will uncover the details of Barrett's life as one of five wives in a household that also included Cleveland's adult daughter.

"We believe the case you're about to hear is about control — one man's control over six women," Passler said. 

Cleveland is pleading not guilty to first-degree murder in Barrett's death. The 42-year-old woman's remains were found in a barrel behind a Waverley Heights home on Dec. 1, 2016.

Members of Barrett's family sat in the gallery for the first day of the trial, including her father, aunts and close family friends.

Perez Adaryll Cleveland, 46, will stand trial before a jury for the next three weeks. (Winnipeg Police Service)

Cleveland sat impassively in the prisoner's box Tuesday afternoon, wearing a green turtleneck under a black sweatshirt, only staring forward or down, as details in the case were brought forward.

"Much of the the evidence you will be hearing will be bizarre and disturbing," Passler warned the seven-man, five woman jury, adding testimony would detail "rampant drug use and violence."

She said the case was about a man with five wives, "who controlled them to do uncomfortable, embarrassing and sometimes unthinkable acts at his behest.

"A man's jealousy, his reaction in a possible loss of control, resulted in the death of Jennifer Barrett," said Passler.

According to Passler, Cleveland moved to Winnipeg in late 2014 from out of province with his adult daughter and three female partners, including Barrett. In the spring of 2016, she said, two more women joined the group.

Passler said Cleveland believed Barrett was cheating on him.

'Kept in the basement'

"You'll hear from four women that at the end of her life, Jennifer Barrett was kept in the basement with the accused who repeatedly assaulted her.… She did not emerge alive from the basement." 

Passler said two of the women — Jessica Reid, then 34, and Holley Alyssa Sullivan, then 28 — were told to get rid of the body and were ultimately charged as accessories.

"Ms. Reid will tell you that she was present in the basement during the multi-day assault. Present in the basement when [Barrett] left the home. Present in the basement as the beating continued and Miss Barrett died," said Passler. 

While Reid was the last of the women to move in with Cleveland, Passler said she was the first to speak with police in November 2016. She moved the body to the attached garage, said Passler, then placed the remains in a barrel with caustic drain cleaner and sealed it after Cleveland ordered her and Sullivan to dispose of Barrett's remains and clean the house and garage while he left town with Jones for a week.

Passler told the jury Reid then fled the home and escaped to the house of a neighbour, who will also testify in the trial.

"You can expect evidence for manipulation, isolation from friends and community, threats, recording of intimate activity, the use of surveillance activity and confinement," said Passler. 

"Understanding the control the accused exerted of these women is important in understanding their methods."

Body inside barrel

The first witness to testify Tuesday was a forensic unit identification officer.

Jason Dee testified he and his partner were dispatched to the house on Forest Lake Drive on Dec. 1, 2016, after the home was vacated. In the rear of the yard, they found a black, metal barrel, which they opened. 

"First it was a little ambiguous but we soon saw what we believed to be a body and chemicals, a white substance," he said. About a quarter of the barrel, measuring 24 inches wide and 34¾ inches deep, was full. 

DNA samples from her family later identified the remains as Barrett, Dee said. 

Next to testify was Barrett's former landlord, Dennis Wiebe, who said Barrett had signed a one-year-lease with him for the two-storey home beginning July 1, 2016. 

Barrett told Wiebe she was a nurse and showed him a pay stub from St. Boniface Hospital. His wife, also a nurse, confirmed the stub to be legitimate, which he said reassured him that she could cover the $1,950 monthly rent. 

But over the next few months, rent wasn't paid. Wiebe said he met with Barrett and another woman, at which point they gave him $2,000 cash.

"I was trying to evict them, they were trying to stay or work out a plan," he said, adding the last text he received from Barrett was near the beginning of September. 

"We had a lot of issues. We had dogs in the house and there wasn't supposed to be any pets. So again, driving the eviction process."

He said that included a litter of pugs.

Wiebe testified he had never spoken to the man Barrett had identified as her husband when she signed the lease.

On Nov. 1, Wiebe said he changed the locks after the tenants had moved, leaving behind a black lab, a cat and a rabbit.

"The dog had killed the cat. It happened right in front of me. We ended up taking the dog and rabbit to the humane society," he testified. His son-in-law testified the barrel in the backyard was too heavy to lift, so they left it behind.

Chief Justice Glenn Joyal adjourned the first day of the trial late Tuesday afternoon.