A woman allegedly killed by her husband before their house exploded died of blood loss after an artery near her face was cut, a court heard Wednesday.

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Police tape surrounds a home in the 200 block of Queens Avenue East after it exploded in 2019.

FILE/TIM SMITH

Police tape surrounds a home in the 200 block of Queens Avenue East after it exploded in 2019.

A woman allegedly killed by her husband before their house exploded died of blood loss after an artery near her face was cut, a court heard Wednesday.

Forensic pathologist Dennis Rhee testified via video about the autopsy of Betty Hughes, who was allegedly killed by her husband, Robert Hughes, on Oct. 22, 2019. He pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder on the first day of his trial in the Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench. Wednesday marked the third day of the trial.

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

While Betty had more than a dozen injuries at the time, the ultimate cause of death was blood loss from an 11.7-centimetre wound that extended from her eyebrow across her temple and into her ear, Rhee said under questioning from Crown attorney Christian Vanderhooft.

"This wound injured the underlying soft tissue, penetrating the cartilage of the ear," he said.

"From that, you would have [blood loss] if that injury is not treated medically, if the artery is not tied off. With continuous beating of the heart, you would have continuous bleeding from that artery."

Rhee said he tested the theory by injecting water below the artery, which leaked out.

He estimated Betty would have died of blood loss minutes after the cut. He was unable to tell where the person who inflicted the wound was standing, just that it was caused by a "weapon."

She had other injuries too, he said, including a long cut on her jaw, cuts to her forehead and body and various bruising on her head and upper body.

Some of the scrapes and abrasions happened after death, Rhee testified.

Betty also had several fractured ribs, some of which likely happened before she died.

While Betty had a multitude of bruises, Rhee told Vanderhooft he didn’t find any that suggested defensive wounds.

During a tense cross-examination, defence lawyer Saul Simmonds raised the possibility there was a struggle between the couple before Betty’s death. He suggested it was possible she was holding the knife in her hand and there was a fight over it.

"All you can tell this jury is that somehow a blade passes through this area … Whether or not that blade is in the hand of someone other than Ms. Hughes would be unknown to you," Simmonds said to Rhee during cross-examination.

"It would be unlikely, in my opinion," Rhee responded.

Simmonds also said the autopsy does not point to how Betty was moving at the time of her death or where the wounds to her temple came from.

Forensic specialist Carol Ng also testified via video about DNA testing done on items recovered from the scene, including two knives, coveralls from Hughes and swabs from both the hot water tank and gas pipe.

She said DNA taken from multiple locations on the knife, including the handle near the blade, the end of the handle and the entire blade, matched the profiles from both Betty and Robert.

Swabs taken from the gas pipe were from two people, one of them possibly matching Robert.

Under questioning from Vanderhooft, she said samples taken from the left shin of the coveralls had a match to Betty.

Simmonds drew attention in his cross-examination to the fact that the DNA testing found both Robert and Betty’s DNA on the knife handle. Ng said earlier DNA can be deposited by skin cells when touching an object, but the lab can’t determine where exactly it came from.

Simmonds questioned Ng while holding the yellow knife in question in a black-gloved left hand.

"When the whole handle is examined, what’s very clear to you is that you get a mixed sample — so more than one person’s cells … is now on that handle," Simmonds said to Ng while pointing at the knife handle.

"From your perspective, you can’t tell us when DNA gets there, but we do know the DNA is consistent with being held by — as we’re going to get to — more than one person," he said.

"I don’t know how the DNA got there, but within that area, there was a profile that was consistent with coming from two individuals," Ng responded.

On the first day of the trial on Monday, Brandon Police Service 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. Simmonds is set to continue his cross-examination of Rhee this morning.

» dmay@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @DrewMay_