By Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The last time Cristin Wise saw her boyfriend alive, she said he told her he planned to go to a neighbour’s property.
Less than 24 hours later, when he didn’t return, she would report Clifford Joseph missing.
Wise told a jury Tuesday that she was at home with Joseph in Stead, Man., a rural area northeast of Winnipeg, on June 6, 2021. He mentioned he was planning to steal a trailer winch from their neighbour’s property, but didn’t say when he would do it, she testified.
“I never thought something so awful would happen to him,” Wise told court on the second day of a trial for Eric Wildman, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Joseph, whose body was found in July 2021.
A Crown attorney has told jurors they will hear evidence suggesting Wildman ran over and shot Joseph three times, including once in the back of the head, after the accused caught Joseph stealing.
Wise told court she went to bed at about 1:30 a.m. She woke up hours later and noticed headlights from the couple’s truck.
Wise said she saw the truck leave their driveway but couldn’t see who was driving. She messaged Joseph but didn’t hear from him.
Wise woke up again at about 8 a.m. and there were no signs of Joseph, which she said was unusual.
Holding back tears, Wise testified that she went looking for her boyfriend and found his truck abandoned on a nearby property. The driver and passenger doors were open. Wise said she found the truck keys and Joseph’s cellphone in or around the vehicle.
“I looked around. I didn’t know where Clifford was, so I took his truck home. I didn’t know why it was there,” Wise said.
Knowing Joseph intended to steal from Wildman, Wise went to his property to see if she could find her boyfriend.
“I was yelling for him,” she said.
She said she looked in a shed, down a well and in fields.
“He was nowhere to be found.”
Wise said she eventually found Joseph’s shoes, hat and a headlamp in a field. She took the items home and called RCMP to report him missing.
The jury heard police got Wise to put back the items in the spots she believed she found them.
During an at-times tense cross-examination, Wildman’s lawyer questioned Wise about what she knew.
“You don’t know if (Joseph) changed his mind about where he was going?” asked Martin Glazer.
“No,” Wise responded.
Glazer then asked: “You never actually saw if (Joseph) went (to Wildman’s) or not?”
Wise said she didn’t.
Glazer also questioned Wise about debts Joseph may have had, relationship troubles and her admitted lying to police.
Wise told the court that in her initial statements to police, she did not tell them Joseph used drugs and planned to steal from Wildman because she was worried officers wouldn’t take her concerns seriously.
Wildman led police on a weeklong manhunt that ended with his arrest at a home just outside Belleville, about 180 kilometres east of Toronto, on June 18, 2021.
The trial is scheduled for five weeks in front of Court of King’s Bench Justice Richard Saull.