30-year cold case: Man found guilty of killing Bristol, PA neighbor
🔥 Joy Hibbs' death was at first thought to be caused by an accidental fire
🔥 Robert Atkins for 30 years denied being involved in his neighbor's death
🔥 His ex-wife in 2022 provided testimony that led to a murder charge
BRISTOL, Pa. — Decades after Joy Hibbs was found dead inside her home after a fire a judge has convicted her accused killer.
Common Pleas Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr. convicted Robert Atkins of first-degree murder and arson Thursday after a bench trial in the case presented by Bucks County District Attorney Jen Schorn.
After an investigation spanning 30 years, Atkins was arrested in May 2022 and charged with Hibbs' murder.
“This family has waited 33 years. Justice has been delayed but it must not be denied," Shorn said during closing arguments.
Hibbs' then 12-year-old son came home from school early on April 19, 1991, and found smoke coming out the back of the house on Spencer Drive in the Croydon section of Bristol Township. His mother's car was still parked in the driveway, according to Schorn.
After he ran to a neighbor's house for help, firefighters arrived and found his mother's body on a bed in his bedroom.
The fire was initially ruled accidental but was changed after an autopsy found that Hibbs had been asphyxiated. She had fractured ribs and been repeatedly stabbed, the autopsy determined.
The fire marshal's office found the fire had been started in the kitchen, her son's bedroom and in the hallway.
The autopsy found there was no smoke in Joy's lungs which the pathologist said indicated she died before the fire.
Wife stayed quiet out of fear
Atkins was identified as a suspect early in an investigation by Bristol police. However, his wife April provided an alibi for her husband out of concern for her safety.
In January 2022 when April was divorced, she testified before a grand jury that Robert came into their home the day of the fire covered in blood, according to the District Attorney's office. Robert told her that he had stabbed someone and set their house on fire. He took a shower and washed his bloody clothes.
Robert told April to call out of work and get their children out of school as they were going to the Poconos where they spent the next two days.
Investigators spoke to Robert at least twice over the years but he denied any involvement. He also told investigators he was a "confidential informant" for Bristol police, which former police chief Thomas Mills later confirmed, according to a criminal complaint.
No case 'too cold'
During a bench trial, dozens of pieces of evidence that included surveillance and the interception of communications were presented by Schorn.
Witnesses testified that Robert's blue Chevrolet Monte Carlo was parked "haphazardly" outside the Hibbs home the morning of the fire, and that he was heard threatening Hibbs over the quality of marijuana he sold to the couple.
Schorn said detectives from her office and Bristol Township police kept at the investigation for 30 years. No case is ever "too cold" to investigate.
“If there is a case out there that is unsolved and you think that taking another look – with the benefit of hindsight, the benefit of the passage of time, the benefit of fresh eyes looking over a case – bring us your cases. We are so privileged to work with great law enforcement in Bucks County.”
The sentencing phase of the trial begins Friday.
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