‘I feel responsible’: Brandon man accused of killing wife before house blast takes stand in own defence

The man accused of killing his wife before their Brandon house exploded says the night his wife died was a nightmare he relives everyday. 

Robert Hughes testified at his second-degree murder trial on Tuesday morning, shortly after the defence opened its case.

Hughes is accused of killing his wife, Betty, in October of 2019 before the house they shared in Brandon’s Green Acres neighbourhood blew up. 

“I relive it all the time,” Hughes said, sitting in the witness box, dressed in a black suit with a white shirt and a tie. Sheriff’s officers removed the leg shackles he had been wearing before testimony began. 

Hughes testified that the day of Betty’s death seemed normal. He said the couple had breakfast in the living room, before Hughes went off to work on renovations in one of the couple’s other homes that was being used as a rental. 

Betty, he said, had planned to meet with a realtor to list their Queen’s Avenue East home that day as the couple was planning their separation — something they had done previously. 

“We separated before, yeah,” he said. “Cool off, get back together and restart. Who cares.” 

The couple had been married just under 45 years and together had three children, one of whom died weeks after birth. 

Kitchen struggle 

On the day of the explosion, Hughes testified, he returned home around 5:30 p.m., and found an agitated Betty, whose nickname was George. Hughes said she wanted him to move some heaters and other material as he was taking off his dirty coveralls while she swept the floor.

“I guess there was a bunch of concrete dust that made a mess on the floor. She just went off,”  Hughes said.

“I was like ‘f—k off b—h,’ and just turned away from her,” he added. “That’s when she whacked me in the back of the head.”  

He said a struggle ensued as she continued hitting him wit the metal handle of the broom. 

“I just kind of turned to her and she just kept coming. She was going off, whack, whack. Next, I’m up against the fridge and oven and she just kept coming and coming. I couldn’t control her.” 

Members of the gallery could be heard getting emotional as Hughes continued his testimony. 

Hughes said the struggle continued for some time, and at one point he noticed she had a utility knife in her hand.

“We struggled. I tried to get her off me … I noticed she had a cut on her cheek,” he said, although he couldn’t recall how she got the cut on her face. He said Betty fell to the ground and bled out. 

“Her final words … she said ‘the kids, think of the kids, the kids,'” he said. “She took her last breath.  She was gone, she was pale.”

Hughes said he sat on the kitchen floor in Betty’s blood in disbelief. 

“I knew she was dead,” he said. “The blood, it’s unbelievable. I wanted to kill myself.” 

House explodes

Hughes then testified that he tried several methods of taking his own life, and that he did tamper with the gas lines in the basement right before the house exploded. 

“I just remember the flame, the big orange boom,” Hughes said. “I must have closed my eyes and stopped breathing. I went flying through the air and landed on the stairs.’ 

He said he remembers being taken to the ambulance by firefighters but nothing more until he woke up at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre.

When asked who started the struggle in the kitchen, Hughes testified it’s something he thinks about every night. 

“Was it when I turned my back and told her to ‘f—k off, b—ch?'” he said.  “That’s not how I talk to her, she’s my partner.

“That’s the red button for her … that’s what set her off.” 

‘I feel responsible’

On cross-examination, Hughes was asked by Crown attorney Chris Vanderhooft whether leaving the home or calling for help were options, instead of trying to gain control of his wife. 

“It was an all-out battle,” Hughes said, at times raising his voice with Vanderhooft. “World War Three is how I’d describe it. She came at me like a wild animal.”

Despite the battle that ensued in the kitchen, Hughes said he didn’t feel threatened by his wife and had no intention of ever hurting Betty or causing her to die. 

“I feel responsible, he said. “I tried my best.”   

The trial is being heard in Brandon’s Court of Queen’s Bench by Justice Scott Abel and 13 jurors. The defence continues its case this week. The trial is expected to take three weeks. 

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