WINNIPEG — They never thought they would find themselves sitting in a courtroom hundreds of kilometres away from home, listening to horrific details of the last days of a woman they loved — details the judge and Crown prosecutor both described as extremely difficult to hear.
But when members of Jennifer Barrett's family heard the jury declare Perez Cleveland guilty of first-degree murder in her death, there were audible gasps of relief as this part of their terrible journey had come to an end.
"He deserves everything he got,” Jennifer Barrett's father David Barrett, surrounded by two of her aunts and several cousins, told reporters outside the Law Courts May 29.
“My daughter did not deserve what she got. We miss her, we love her, and we've just got to get by now that this part of our life is over. This part of our life — we got closure."
Barrett, 42, was a former nurse and hockey mom from Sudbury, Ont., who was murdered by Cleveland, her boyfriend, who kept her in a Waverley Heights home along with four other girlfriends and his adult daughter.
Moments after the jury of seven men and five women announced their verdict, 46-year-old Cleveland received his automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Cleveland was a “curator in a house of horrors,” Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said as he imposed the “much-deserved” mandatory sentence for first-degree murder.
"I've imposed this sentence before, but I've never said this,” Joyal told him. “But I'll say it for the first time: you deserve every second, every minute and every month.
"I have nothing more to say to you."
Over the course of the two-week trial, the jury heard how Cleveland charmed women into moving in with him and maintained “open relationships” with them built on manipulation, control, threats and extreme violence.
Four of the women who were living with him in August 2016, when Barrett died, testified about the torture he inflicted on each of them as the group moved across Canada.
Barrett had known Cleveland for many years and had a child with him before joining his household. When they arrived in Winnipeg, Barrett was working at St. Boniface Hospital.
She, like the other women, lost her job because of Cleveland's abuse. He beat her to death over the course of several days and ordered two other women to get rid of her body using a drain-cleaner-based chemical concoction. Her remains were found in a steel barrel beside the house at 38 Forest Lake Dr., in December 2016, four months after she was last seen alive.
For decades, Cleveland's abusive behaviour toward women escalated, court heard.
During the brief sentencing hearing Wednesday night, Crown prosecutor Chris Vanderhooft said Cleveland's criminal record dates back to a 1991 sexual-assault conviction from Ontario.
It includes several fraud convictions from Georgia during four years in which he lived in the United States, and when he returned to Ontario he was convicted in a litany of violent and threatening incidents against women, including girlfriends and the mother of one of his children.
Cleveland told Barrett's family he was sorry. He apologized for "what happened with Jennifer" and said he wished "it could be undone."
"This is not about me at this point,” he said. “It's about Jennifer and I fully understand and acknowledge that.”
As his daughter's killer spoke, David Barrett couldn't look at him.
“Everything that was coming out of his mouth was a lie, and I don't need to look at a man who is standing there lying in my face,” Barrett said later.
In an eloquent victim-impact statement read aloud in court by Vanderhooft, Barrett wrote about Jennifer's birth, and how he vowed as a new dad to always protect her.
He described her youthful foibles — listening to loud music, and car crashes from which she emerged unhurt — and how she got good grades without ever seeming to spend much time on homework.
"I taught my daughter to be her own person and don't let anyone make you do things that are not right,” he wrote. “Life was good.”
When she became a mom to a son — now 20 — who loved hockey, Jennifer threw parties for the team in her father's backyard. Her ability to care for others led her to pursue a nursing career. She worked during the day caring for someone with special needs and logged night shifts in a nursing home, her father said.
But things changed when she got involved with Cleveland, who isolated her from her friends. Shortly after Jennifer left home in Sudbury, her parents found a letter addressed to them.
"She said, dear mom and dad, I've got to do what I've got to do, because if not, (Cleveland) has threatened to come out, burn down our house and make sure everybody inside that house is dead," David Barrett told reporters.
In his victim-impact statement, he wrote that in the end, he couldn't protect her.
"The promise I made to her to protect her was broken because I was there when she came into this world, crying and screaming and just full of life, but I was not there when she was crying, screaming and begging for her life."
Winnipeggers, particularly women, should feel safer now that Cleveland has been sentenced to life in prison, Barrett told reporters. He thanked police and victim support workers for their efforts, and said he felt as though justice had been served.
"I will sleep a lot better tonight than what I have been in the last two or three years, I can tell you that,” he said.
Reprinted with permission from the Winnipeg Free Press