Woman testifies about strange dynamic in home shared with Winnipeg murder suspect

Woman testifies about strange dynamic in home shared with Winnipeg murder suspect

WINNIPEG — A woman says jealousy was a problem in a house several women shared with a man who is accused of killing one of them.

"Five women all vying for the attention of one man, obviously, there would be jealousy issues," Holley Sullivan told the jury at the first-degree murder trial of Perez Cleveland on Tuesday.

Cleveland, 46, has pleaded not guilty in the death of 42-year-old Jennifer Barrett, whose body was found in a barrel behind their Winnipeg home in 2016.

Court has heard that Cleveland shared the house with his adult daughter and five women who were described by one of them as "sister wives."

Last week, Sullivan, 30, told court she started a relationship with Cleveland in 2010 and experienced years of horrific abuse.

Court heard that Cleveland, his daughter, Sullivan, Barrett, and another woman moved to Winnipeg in 2014. Soon after, Sullivan was jailed for a credit-card scam.

By the time she was released in 2016, two more women had joined the group, including Jessica Reid, 36, who testified about similar abuse in the home. Sullivan testified that Cleveland had an "uncanny knack of making them think the abuse he inflicted on them was their fault."

The defence has argued that Reid was jealous of Barrett. Defence lawyer Steve Brennan asked Sullivan whether she'd seen violence between the two women and Sullivan said no.

"I would say that Jessica was jealous of everyone," she said.

Sullivan is currently serving time after pleading guilty for her role in hiding Barrett's body in the barrel. Reid is also charged with being an accessory after the fact, but her case has not yet gone to trial.

The defence also pointed to the different scams Sullivan took part in, including credit-card skimming, puppy sales and ripping off landlords. Sullivan said it was all to support Cleveland because he had complete control over her.

"Every penny I made for the seven years I was with that man went to him," she said.

Sullivan testified that in August 2016 Cleveland punished Barrett over several days in the basement of their house because he believed she was cheating on him.

Sullivan told the jury she researched liquid cremations online when Cleveland asked her and Reid to dispose of Barrett's body. The two women placed the body in a barrel with a mix of drain cleaner and water. They heated it up with a blowtorch to speed up decomposition.

"There was no discussion about blaming this all on Perez if you got caught?" Brennan asked.

"No," Sullivan responded.

Brennan asked why the abuse and the death were never reported to police. He questioned why Sullivan initially lied to officers and said Barrett had left the city to visit family in Ontario.

She was trying to protect Cleveland, Sullivan responded, and she was afraid of what he would do. 

"You were also interested in protecting Holley Sullivan, weren't you?" Brennan said.

Sullivan continued to have a relationship with Cleveland for a few months after Barrett's death before she fled to a women's shelter and then to Alberta.

When asked by defence why she finally left, Sullivan said that Cleveland had also threatened to kill her.

"It was either I left, or I was going to end up like Ms. Barrett."

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press