Evidence mounting against accused in murder of Wainwright mother-of-two

·4 min read
Robert Clifford is charged with the second-degree murder of his wife Nichole.
Robert Clifford is charged with the second-degree murder of his wife Nichole.

(Remembering Nichole McKeith/Facebook)

Hours after Nichole Clifford's dead body was discovered inside her Wainwright house in February 2017, RCMP wanted to locate her estranged husband.

They reached Robert Clifford by phone at his parents' home in a village half an hour east of Wainwright.

"It was a logical step in our investigation to speak with him," Staff Sgt. Carson Creaser testified this week during at Clifford's second-degree murder trial in St. Paul Court of Queen's Bench .

Creaser said Clifford's mother answered the phone and immediately passed it to her husband, Barry.

"He was aggressive and not very co-operative," Creaser said. "Barry's immediate response was that Robert had nothing to do with it, that he'd been at the farm since seven the previous night."

The Mountie said he was taken aback by the conversation. He described it as bizarre.

"It didn't seem to me that his reaction was natural," Creaser testified. "The mother of his grandchildren was deceased. I would have expected a much different reaction."

Nichole and Robert Clifford had separated weeks before her death. She had filed divorce papers and obtained an emergency protection order from the courts after he sent her harassing messages and allegedly broke into her house at least twice.

RCMP/Court exhibit
RCMP/Court exhibit

Nichole told her friend she was afraid to be by herself in the house; despite that, she went to her house alone on Feb. 23, 2017. Modem records show she arrived at 10:22 p.m.

The next morning, Nichole failed to show up at work and her friend went to the house to check.

RCMP found the victim inside. She had been stabbed 17 times in the neck, chest and back.

"There was no sign of forced entry," Creaser testified. "It seemed obvious to me that whoever murdered Ms. Clifford knew their way around the house and how to get in and out of it without breaking the door."

RCMP viewed Robert as a suspect almost immediately. He agreed to be interviewed at the Wainwright detachment the next day.

The interview did not change Creaser's opinion.

"I found him to be very guarded," Creaser testified. "He did not volunteer a lot of information."

Creaser also found it unusual that Robert did not ask about his children.

"He did not seem overly concerned that the children could have been in harm's way," Creaser said.

Router records examined

The staff sergeant asked Robert to account for his whereabouts on Feb. 23 and overnight to the 24th.

Robert claimed he left Wainwright at 6:30 p.m. on the 23rd in a borrowed light blue Crown Victoria car and arrived at his parents' farm a half-hour later. He also claimed he'd stopped at a gas station on the way out of town to buy some cigarettes.

Police obtained surveillance video from the gas bar and viewed the tapes.

"I had a view of everyone entering the store and I do not believe that Robert Clifford was one of those people," Sgt. Bryce Long testified Friday. "I don't believe he went to Anna's Gas Bar during the period that I watched."

Police also obtained search warrants to examine the routers at Nichole's house and the house where Robert was staying.

The router memory showed that Robert accessed the internet using his phone on Feb. 23 at 5:12 p.m. He didn't access it again until 11:28 a.m. the next day.

His phone connected to his estranged wife's router on the 23rd at 6:22 p.m. and disconnected at 11:08 p.m. That was 46 minutes after the router showed Nichole logging in with her phone.

During questioning of another witness, defence lawyer Timothy Dunlap suggested the accused was in the trailer behind Nichole's house until 11 p.m. but did not go inside the house.

RCMP/Court exhibit
RCMP/Court exhibit

The officer who examined the modem said it's possible the router in the basement could have the range to reach the trailer in the backyard.

Dunlap also suggested there was a video of someone running away from Nichole's house at 1 a.m. When the lead investigator was questioned about the video, he said it was very poor quality and he was unable to determine the identity of the person running away.

The video has not been put into evidence.

DNA matches

As part of its investigation, RCMP seized a number of exhibits and had them tested for potential DNA matches.

A portion of the seatbelt in the Crown Victoria that Robert said he had been driving was one of the items tested. It appeared to be bloodstained.

RCMP/Court exhibit
RCMP/Court exhibit

DNA analyst Greg Litzenberger testified that three areas tested on the seatbelt were a positive match to Nichole Clifford, with a one in 330 quintillion chance it was someone else.

A belt was also seized from the crime scene and tested. Litzenberger determined Robert's DNA was on the inside of the belt.

Nichole's fingernails on her right hand were clipped at autopsy and sent for DNA analysis. Her blood and his DNA were found on some of the fingernail clippings.

Remembering Nichole McKeith/Facebook
Remembering Nichole McKeith/Facebook

Robert was charged with second-degree murder eight months after Nichole's death.

The Crown has closed its case. The trial resumes Tuesday.