Neighbours and friends recounted their final interactions with Betty Hughes in the hours before her death on Oct. 22, 2019, at the trial of her husband, Robert Hughes.

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Neighbours and friends recounted their final interactions with Betty Hughes in the hours before her death on Oct. 22, 2019, at the trial of her husband, Robert Hughes.

Robert Hughes is accused of killing his wife before their Queens Avenue East house exploded. He pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder on Monday, the first day of his trial in the Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench.

Betty and Robert Hughes

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Betty and Robert Hughes

The charges have not been proven in court and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Hughes was 63 when he was charged.

Dianne Noto, a longtime friend of Betty and Robert, said she believed the two were having problems with their marriage in the months leading up to Betty’s death. She said they bought the east end home after selling their old house over the summer.

She last saw Betty on Oct. 21, the day before her death, she told Crown attorney Christian Vanderhooft. At the time, she said Betty seemed "sad" and informed her she would be selling their newly purchased house.

Betty was "upset" at the time, real estate agent Susan Hargreaves testified.

Hargreaves told Vanderhooft she was at the house the day of the explosion to put up a "for sale" sign and spent some time talking to Betty.

Neighbour James Devereux testified Betty knocked on his door at approximately 4 p.m. asking to borrow a shovel and a rake. At the time, she also told him she was selling the house.

Devereux said he was outside putting the tools back in his garage at approximately 6 p.m. when he saw Robert Hughes arriving home.

Sometime between 6:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., Devereux told the court he heard a "big bang."

"I thought it was something that happened with my furnace," he said.

"I was sitting, watching TV. I got up, went into [the room] where my furnace is to have a look around. I wasn’t sure what was going on. Just as I went into the furnace [room], the furnace shut down."

He said he then called a repair company to come and check the furnace.

"Just as I was doing it, somebody rang our front doorbell. My wife answers the doorbell and the person who was there told my wife that the house next door blew up.

"I went out the front door, I had a look ... and just as that was happening, police cars, fire department, everybody was coming up the street," he said, adding police then told him he needed to evacuate.

None of the witnesses who testified on Thursday said they noticed any injuries on Betty in their interactions with her.

Robert Hughes wore a grey suit and sat quietly flanked by two Manitoba Sheriffs officers throughout the day.

Defence lawyer Saul Simmonds continued his cross-examination of pathologist Dennis Rhee in the morning.

Rhee, who performed the autopsy on Betty, said he could not tell the direction of the blade that sliced an artery near her face and ultimately led to her death. The court heard on Wednesday Betty died of blood loss due to the cut.

She also had a number of other wounds on her body at the time of her death, Rhee testified.

On the first day of the trial on Monday, Brandon Police Service officer Const. Travis Foster said Betty was found inside the destroyed house with a multitude of cuts and lying in a pool of blood.

The trial is scheduled to last approximately three weeks and is set to continue with the Crown’s case on Monday.

» dmay@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @DrewMay_