WINNIPEG — A Crown prosecutor says a man on trial for first-degree murder maintained control over multiple women he lived with through surveillance, drugs and abuse.
Perez Cleveland, 46, has pleaded not guilty in the death of Jennifer Barrett, 42, whose body was found in a barrel behind their Winnipeg home in December 2016.
Prosecutor Breta Passler told a jury during opening arguments on Tuesday that the case is about "one man's control over six women."
"They did unthinkable acts at his behest," Passler said.
Court heard that Cleveland was living in the home with his adult daughter and five women described as his domestic partners.
Some of the women had been in a romantic relationship with Cleveland for many years when Barrett joined them in 2012.
In the summer of 2016, Cleveland became convinced that Barrett was cheating on him, Passler said. She was locked in the basement and tortured for days before she was killed.
Cleveland told two of the women that Barrett had left town, Passler said, and he ordered two others to dispose of her body.
Chemicals were used to speed up decomposition, added Passler, and Barrett's remains were identified through DNA testing.
One of the women eventually escaped the abuse and went to police, Passler told the jury.
Dennis Wiebe, a real estate agent who also managed the property where Cleveland and the women lived, testified that he met Barrett in June 2016 when she signed the lease on the home.
She told him she was a nurse at St. Boniface Hospital and that she would be staying in the home with her husband and daughter, Wiebe said.
After they moved in, Wiebe said he stopped getting rent money. In August of that year, Barrett gave him $2,000 cash and promised more was coming.
"That was the last time I saw her in person," Wiebe said.
A couple months later, Barrett stopped answering phone calls and text messages, Wiebe said. So he began to deal with other people in the home about the rent.
The man identified as Barrett's husband said he didn't know where Barrett was, Wiebe said.
In November, Wiebe took back possession of the house, changed the locks and started to clean out the property.
Animal feces was all over the house, the basement and garage were filled with plastic bags and garbage, and stairs down to basement had been painted, he testified. The door handle to the basement had also been replaced with a keypad lock, Wiebe said.
A sealed barrel was found in the backyard but it was too heavy to move to the dump, Wiebe told court.
Soon after, he got a call from city police.
Jason Dee, an officer with the police identification unit, testified that when the barrel was opened, it became clear what was inside.
"We soon saw what we believed to be a body," he told court.
Inside the home, officers found a hand-written relationship contract between Barrett and Cleveland signed and dated in 2013, Dee said.
There was also evidence of blood in the basement, but Dee said he did not know how long it had been there.