WINNIPEG — A woman testified Friday that 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 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 told court that she started dating Cleveland after they met while working at a call centre in Toronto in 2010. She was 21 and he was 36.
At first, the relationship was like a honeymoon, Sullivan said, but then it turned abusive. When she moved in with Cleveland the following year, she learned that another woman he was in a relationship with also lived with him. Sullivan decided to stay.
"Perez was very charming," she said.
Yet she described years of physical violence in the household. On one occasion, he threatened her with a meat cleaver while she was stripped naked and wrapped in duct tape.
GRAPHIC WARNING: This story contains details that may disturb some readers.
Another time, he tied her to a bed and attempted to sexually assault her with a hot curling iron, Sullivan said. He also threatened to hurt her family if she ever tried to leave.
"I stayed because that's where I thought my loyalty was to," she testified.
Court heard that the unusual group — which Barrett joined in 2012 — had moved to Quebec and British Columbia before settling in Winnipeg in 2014. Soon after, Sullivan was jailed for a credit card scam that she said she did at Cleveland's behest.
When she was released in 2016, two more women had joined them, including Jessica Reid, 36, who testified Thursday about beatings in the home with hammers, golf clubs and extension cords.
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 began to punish Barrett over several days in the basement of their house because he believed she was cheating on him.
There were bruises, welts and burn marks on 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," she said.
Cleveland later told her Barrett had died and asked her and Reid to disposed of the body, Sullivan said. She researched liquid cremations online.
The two women placed Barrett's body in a barrel with a mix of drain cleaner and water, Sullivan said. They heated up the barrel with a blowtorch to speed up decomposition.
When asked why she continued to live with Cleveland after Barrett's death, Sullivan said she was under his complete control.
"I genuinely feared for my life and my family's life," she said. "I didn't have anywhere else to go."
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press