COVID-19 wreaking 'havoc' on Robert Clifford murder trial, judge says

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Robert Clifford is charged with the second-degree murder of his wife Nichole. (Remembering Nichole McKeith/Facebook - image credit)
Robert Clifford is charged with the second-degree murder of his wife Nichole. (Remembering Nichole McKeith/Facebook - image credit)

The Robert Clifford second-degree murder retrial has been hit with a COVID-19 curveball.

Clifford is accused of killing his estranged wife Nichole in February 2017. The young mother of two suffered 17 stab wounds in her Wainwright home.

Clifford was found guilty in February 2021, but a mistrial was declared last June and a new trial was ordered.

On Monday, Clifford's lawyer argued that the murder charge should be stayed because the case has been before the courts for almost five years.

The judge reserved his decision and the plan was to begin hearing retrial evidence on Tuesday.

But first thing Tuesday morning, defence lawyer Timothy Dunlap advised the court that his co-counsel, Curtis Mennie, has tested positive for COVID-19.

"Yesterday during my submissions he was coughing," Dunlap said. "After we were done, we were walking out to the vehicle and he didn't look good."

Dunlap told the judge that Mennie stayed at his home throughout the weekend while they prepared their legal arguments. He decided to also go into isolation because Mennie had been a close contact.

"Unfortunately COVID has wrought a bit of havoc on this trial," Calgary-based Court of Queen's Justice Nicholas Devlin observed.

Devlin heard the legal submissions remotely on Monday and Tuesday after advising the court that he was battling his second bout with COVID.

"I finally tested negative this morning," Devlin said on Tuesday, noting it had been ten days since he first tested positive.

On July 4, 2022, the Court of Queen's Bench removed mandatory masking and social distancing in all Alberta courthouses.

The trial has been adjourned until next week.

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