Murder trial of man accused of killing estranged wife in danger of collapsing due to delays

·2 min read
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 lawyer representing accused killer Robert Clifford is attempting to get the second-degree murder charge against him stayed because the case has been before the courts for nearly five years.

Clifford is accused of murdering his estranged wife Nichole Clifford. The young mother of two was stabbed 17 times in the neck, chest and back on Feb. 23, 2017. The next morning, her body was found at the bottom of the basement stairs in the Wainwright house she once shared with her estranged husband.

The married couple had separated 53 days earlier.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Nathan Whitling found Clifford guilty of second-degree murder in February 2021. When he was supposed to be sentenced last June, instead Clifford's lawyer applied for a mistrial.

The judge said he had been misled by the Crown regarding key evidence that was not entered during the trial, so he granted the mistrial.

The retrial was supposed to begin Monday in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench. Instead, Justice Nicholas Devlin listened to arguments from the Crown and defence on whether Clifford's constitutional right to a timely trial has been violated.

The 2016 Supreme Court of Canada Jordan decision prescribes that defendants have the right to be tried within 30 months from the time they were charged in superior courts.

It's now been almost 57 months since Clifford was charged.

"There's no question that 57 months is a very long time," Devlin said.

Now, it's up to the judge to decide who bears responsibility for the delays: the courts, the Crown, the defence or a combination of all three to varying degrees.

Some delays were caused by the pandemic and the scarcity of court time. But Clifford has also changed lawyers three times and there were occasions when the current lawyer's schedule was too full to accommodate proposed court dates.

Defence lawyer Tim Dunlap said the only reason he was able to make himself available for the two week retrial is because he gave up his annual holiday.

Dalilah McKeith/Facebook
Dalilah McKeith/Facebook

"It's the Crown's fault that we're past Jordan in the first place," Dunlap argued.

In response, Crown prosecutor Jeff Rudiak acknowledged some of the delays must be blamed on the Crown, while others should count as a defence delay.

The accused, who is presently free on bail and on 24-hour house arrest was not in the prisoner's box as he listened to the legal arguments.

Clifford was dressed in a white shirt, blue jeans and sneakers. He sat beside his mother at the back of the courtroom.

The judge has reserved his decision.

The Crown will begin calling witnesses Tuesday as the retrial begins.

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