One of five women involved with a man accused of killing one of them testified that the death came after days of the victim being abused.
“He was beating her up with cords, a hammer, knives,” Jessica Reid, 36, told jurors Thursday at Perez Cleveland’s first-degree murder trial.
Cleveland, 46, has pleaded not guilty to killing 42-year-old Jennifer Barrett, whose body was found in a barrel behind their Winnipeg home in December 2016.
Court heard earlier this week that Cleveland shared the house with his adult daughter and five women whom Reid described as sister wives.
Barrett was kept in the basement of the home that summer, Reid testified, because Cleveland claimed she had been flirting with other men. After a couple days of physical abuse, Barrett left the home for a few hours. Things got worse when she returned, Reid said.
Reid testified she saw Barrett stumble out of the basement’s laundry room and fall to the floor.
Cleveland used a Taser on Barrett’s leg to try to get her moving, Reid said. The woman jolted but no other movement followed.
“I knew something was wrong. I freaked out,” Reid said.
Cleveland moved Barrett’s body into a plastic storage bin in the garage, Reid said. He told her and another woman in the house to deal with the problem. He then left to go stay at a hotel.
The stench was awful, Reid testified, and she and the other woman came up with a plan to put Barrett’s body in a sealed barrel in the backyard.
Reid is charged with being an accessory after the fact, but her case has not yet gone to trial.
The defence suggested there was jealously between the sister wives and it was Reid who was violent towards Barrett.
Jurors have been told that some of the women had been in a romantic relationship with Cleveland for many years when Barrett moved in with them in 2012. However, Barrett had known Cleveland the longest, the jury heard, and they had a child who was not living at the house.
Reid testified she met Cleveland in 2015 when she was buying methamphetamine and their relationship soon turned romantic. When Reid was evicted from her apartment, she moved in with Cleveland and the others.
She said she didn’t leave Cleveland because she was dependent on him for a place to live, for drugs and for money. She was also scared.
“I knew what he would do if he found me.”
Surveillance cameras in home
The women had roles in the house to cook or clean and were punished when they didn’t follow the rules, Reid said. There were also surveillance cameras throughout the home.
One night, she woke up to see Cleveland pointing a gun at her, she told court. She was also locked in the laundry room and tortured for days to teach the other women a lesson, she said.
Reid described beatings with hammers, golf clubs and extension cords. Cleveland also used a blowtorch to heat up vise-grip pliers and burned her body.
The abuse worsened after Barrett’s death as Cleveland got increasingly paranoid about the killing being discovered, Reid said. One morning Cleveland came at her with a crazed look in his eye, she said.
“I’m not going to do this anymore. I can’t do this,” she recalled yelling at him before she ran to a neighbour’s home and called police.
Defence lawyer Steve Brennan asked Reid whether she knew Barrett and Cleveland were in a dominant-submissive relationship and used bondage. He also asked if she actually saw how Barrett’s injuries were caused.
Reid said she had seen prior abuse but not the violence that killed her.
There was screaming, she said, and she saw blood everywhere in the laundry room.
Brennan asked Reid why she helped clean up the crime.
“I was scared that he would send someone after me,” she said.