WINNIPEG—A judge told a Winnipeg man convicted in the killing of a woman whose body was found decomposing in a barrel that he deserved every second, minute, and month of his lifetime sentence.
“You were by any estimation a curator of a house of horrors,” Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said to Perez Cleveland, 46.
A jury deliberated for less than four hours Wednesday before finding Cleveland guilty of first-degree murder in the 2016 death of Jennifer Barrett. It carries a mandatory life sentence without possibility of parole for 25 years.
The 42-year-old woman’s father, Dave Barrett, described his daughter as a devoted mother with a loving heart.
When the family learned she had been killed and her body placed in a barrel filled with chemicals, they said they were devastated.
“It was like having your insides ripped out and the pain doesn’t stop,” Dave Barrett said in his victim impact statement.
In an interview outside court after the verdict, he explained his daughter left a note when she moved away with Cleveland in 2012 explaining she had to go because he was threatening to hurt her family.
The trial had heard that Cleveland shared a house in Winnipeg with his adult daughter and five women, who were described by one of them as “sister wives.”
Crown attorney Breta Passler told jurors during closing arguments on Tuesday that Cleveland exploited the women’s unique vulnerabilities and physically abused them to maintain control over their lives.
“Mr. Cleveland controlled every aspect of that home that he called his kingdom,” Passler said.
Four of the women testified that he was initially charming but soon turned psychologically and physically abusive. Each woman painstakingly detailed horrific abuse with extension cords, hammers, and blowtorches. They testified about being threatened with crossbows, cut with machetes, and sexually humiliated.
They were also monitored with surveillance equipment.
Defence lawyer Steve Brennan had questioned why there were no police or hospital records reflecting the abuse the women described. He argued that while Cleveland may not have been a good partner, there was no evidence that he killed Jennifer Barrett.
Court heard that because of the body’s decomposition, there was no way to know what caused her death.
The Crown said Cleveland became fixated on the idea that Barrett had cheated on him that summer and tortured her for days until she died.
One of the women testified that Barrett had tried to escape, she was covered in bruises and could not lift her arms above her head.
Jessica Reid, 36, told court she saw Barrett stumble out of the basement’s laundry room and fall to the floor.
Cleveland used a Taser on Barrett to try to get her moving, Reid said. The woman’s body jolted, but no other movement followed.
Holley Sullivan, 30, told jurors that Cleveland’s favourite phrase was: “If you cannot listen, then you must feel.”
When Cleveland asked her and Reid to dispose of Barrett’s body, they complied, Sullivan said. They put her body in the barrel with a mix of drain cleaner and water, and heated it up with a blowtorch to speed up decomposition.
Sullivan is serving time after pleading guilty for her role in hiding Barrett’s body. Reid also faces charges, but her case has not yet gone to trial.
“He probably could have told me to try and catch the sun and I would have done it,” Sullivan said.
Cleveland stood up to address the court and Barrett’s family looked away. He said he was sorry for what happened to Barrett and wished it could be undone.
Her father later said the words were insincere, especially after they had heard the details of the final days of his daughter’s life.
“He was not a man, he was an animal,” Dave Barrett said. “He was inhuman person. He did not care about anybody. He did not care how much injury he caused to anybody, any family. It did not matter to him.
“He deserves everything he got. My daughter did not deserve what she got.”