WINNIPEG — A woman says she helped hide another woman’s dead body in a barrel filled with chemicals because the man accused in the killing had total control over her after years of abuse.
“He probably could have told me to try and catch the sun and I would have done it,” Holley Sullivan, 30, told jurors Friday at Perez Cleveland’s first-degree murder trial.
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.
Earlier this week, court heard that Cleveland shared the house with his adult daughter and five women who were described in court by one of them as “sister wives.”
Sullivan started dating Cleveland after they met while working at a call centre in Toronto in 2010. She was 21 and he was 36. She told court she didn’t know he was also in a relationship with another woman until she moved in with them the following year.
“Perez was very charming,” she said.
Yet, she described years of physical violence in the household.
GRAPHIC WARNING: This story contains details that may disturb some readers.
On one occasion, he threatened her with a meat cleaver while she was stripped naked and wrapped in duct tape, Sullivan said. Another time, he tied her to a bed and attempted to sexually assault her with a hot curling iron.
One of Barrett’s family members left the courtroom as other graphic abuse was detailed — the use of crossbows and the staging of a so-called kill room from the television show “Dexter.”
Sullivan said Cleveland’s favourite phrase was: “If you cannot listen, then you must feel.”
He also threatened to hurt her family if she ever tried to leave, she said.
Court heard that the unusual group — which Barrett joined in 2012 — moved to Winnipeg in 2014. Soon after, Sullivan was jailed for a credit card scam that she said she did at Cleveland’s behest.
By her release in 2016, two more women had joined the group, including Jessica Reid, 36, who testified Thursday about similar beatings in the home.
Cleveland’s lawyer has argued that Reid was jealous of Barrett’s relationship with Cleveland and acted violently toward Barrett. Reid is also charged with being an accessory after the fact, but her case has not yet gone to trial.
“Perez had an uncanny knack of making them think the abuse he inflicted on them was their fault,” Sullivan testified.
She told court that in August 2016, Cleveland punished Barrett over several days in the basement of their house because he believed she was cheating on him.
The marks of extreme violence were all over Barrett’s body, said Sullivan, who added she helped the woman shower because she couldn’t lift her arms. “She was literally black and blue from head to toe.”
Cleveland later told her that Barrett had died and asked her and Reid to dispose of the body, Sullivan said, because she had a diploma in forensic biotechnology.
She told court she researched liquid cremations online, and she and Reid placed Barrett’s body in a barrel with a mix of drain cleaner and water. They also heated up the barrel with a blowtorch to speed up decomposition.
Sullivan told the jury she lived with Cleveland for a few months after Barrett’s death, then went to a women’s shelter.
“He said to me that Jen was an accident, but he was going to kill me intentionally and enjoy it,” Sullivan said.
The trail is to continue on Tuesday with her cross examination by the defence.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press