76-year-old Spruce Grove man tells son, 'Your mother didn't die in her sleep'

·3 min read

A Spruce Grove man confessed to his son that he suffocated the woman he'd been married to for nearly 55 years, then didn't tell anyone what had happened.

Robert Joyes, 76, was originally charged with the second-degree murder of his wife Freda in May 2018.

The charge was downgraded to manslaughter at a preliminary hearing and withdrawn altogether on Wednesday when Robert Joyes pleaded guilty in Edmonton's Court of Queen's Bench to neglecting a dead body by not contacting the medical examiner.

He was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest by Justice Terry Clackson, as recommended by a joint submission from the Crown and defence.

Robert Joyes was the primary caregiver for his 74-year-old wife who was confined to a wheelchair, had severe heart disease and suffered excruciating pain from rheumatoid arthritis and migraines that were treated by opioids. Following a surgery in 2017, she was no longer able to raise her head.

Freda Joyes relied on her husband for trips to the doctor and giving her medication. She also received regular home care visits from health professionals.

The couple had three sons, one of whom suffered brain damage at age one from post-meningitis complications and needed constant care from his parents until he died in 2015.

When that happened, Robert Joyes began to drink heavily. His alcohol abuse worsened as his wife's physical state deteriorated.

According to an agreed statement of facts, one of their sons visited his parents at their apartment on Mother's Day in 2018.

That's the last time he saw Freda Joyes alive.

Two weeks later, he came to the apartment to check on his parents and found his mother dead in her bed in an advanced stage of decomposition. His father was nowhere to be found.

"During that time, he was grossly intoxicated," the court document states. "He understood the victim had passed away but did not want to report her death.

"Instead, he kept drinking heavily while sleeping in the same bed as his dead wife."

Robert Joyes was arrested for impaired driving on May 26, 2018, and for public intoxication the next day.

No one knows exactly when Freda Joyes died. Her husband kept turning away home care workers by telling them they were going away and that everything was fine.

Confession

After Freda's body was found and the death reported, Robert Joyes confessed what had happened to his son.

"Your mother didn't die in her sleep," Joyes told his son. "I suffocated her. She wanted it. She was in a lot of pain."

His son insisted they go to the RCMP, where Joyes told an officer, "I put a pillow over her face."

An autopsy was performed on May 30, 2018. At a preliminary hearing, the medical examiner, Dr. Bernard Bannach, testified that he concluded the cause of death was undetermined.

Had it not been for Robert Joyes' confession, Bannach said he would have found the cause to be heart disease.

Justice Clackson said that having reviewed the agreed statement of facts, he was confident Joyes likely would have been acquitted on the manslaughter charge, given the findings from the medical examiner.

"One is not always sure about the mechanism of death, especially when there's a heart condition," Clackson said.

Robert Joyes has undergone extensive treatment for his alcohol addiction and said he hasn't touched a drop since the death of his wife.

"I fully understand and feel a lot of shame for what happened," he told the judge. "I realize my alcoholism was totally out of control. ... I have no excuses per se for what happened, other than I was so under the influence."

He told the court he plans to spend the rest of his life sober, helping others who suffer from the same addiction.

"Nearly 900 days ago, my client lost his best friend and partner of nearly 55 years," defence lawyer Anthony Oliver told the judge. "He clearly loved his wife who was literally on her deathbed."

But, Oliver noted, "Our society can't function if you permit bodies to be left around."