BRISTOL TOWNSHIP, Pa. (TCD) — A 57-year-old man will spend the rest of his life behind bars for stabbing and choking a 35-year-old mother in 1991 and setting fire to her home to cover up her death.
On Friday, Feb. 2, a judge sentenced Robert Atkins to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the first-degree murder of Joy Hibbs, the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office announced. Atkins was also sentenced to an additional five to 10 years for one arson conviction and another 10 to 20 years for a second arson conviction.
According to the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office, on April 19, 1991, Hibbs’ 12-year-old son noticed smoke coming from their residence at 1200 Spencer Drive after getting off the school bus. Due to the flames and smoke, the boy was reportedly unable to get through the kitchen, and he went to his neighbors for help since he knew his mother was still home.
Fire personnel put out the flames, and officials discovered Hibbs dead on a bed in her son’s bedroom, the district attorney’s office said. Investigators initially believed Hibbs died in an “accidental fire,” but an autopsy later determined she had been stabbed multiple times, sustained fractured ribs, and had been strangled. According to the district attorney’s office, a pathologist concluded Hibbs died before the fire because there was no smoke in her lungs.
The fire marshal reportedly determined the flames had been intentionally set through four separate areas of the home, including two fires in the kitchen, one in the victim’s bedroom, and the fourth in the home’s hallway.
According to the district attorney’s office, detectives identified Atkins as a suspect early on. Atkins had reportedly lived near Hibbs in the past and would sometimes sell marijuana to her and her husband.
During the trial, witnesses testified that Atkins “threatened Hibbs in a dispute over the quality of marijuana he sold,” the district attorney’s office said. Weeks before Hibbs’ death, a rock was reportedly “thrown through their home window, her car tires were slashed, and the back door of the home was kicked in.”
In court, some of the victim’s neighbors said they saw a blue Chevrolet Monte Carlo, similar to the one Atkins was known to drive, “parked haphazardly outside the Hibbs’ home around the time of the murder,” according to the district attorney’s office.
The defendant’s ex-wife reportedly said in court that Atkins came home on the day of Hibbs’ slaying “covered in blood and soot.” He also “told her to call out of work, losing much-needed income, and then took the family on an impromptu trip to the Poconos.”
Officials arrested Atkins more than three decades after Hibbs’ death, in May 2022, after a Bucks County grand jury indicted the defendant on counts of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, two counts of robbery, and seven counts of arson.
During the sentencing hearing, the victim’s husband, Charlie Hibbs, said, “Joy was my high school sweetheart, my first love, mother to my children, and the loving soul that kept our family together.”
He continued, “The choice he made that day broke our hearts but strengthened us as a family. According to my faith, I am supposed to forgive, and I am finding difficulty in doing so. But I hope that Mr. Atkins lives to be a very old man and thinks about the choices he made that day, and all the things he has missed while spending time incarcerated.”
Bucks County District Attorney Jen Schorn added, “This family has waited 33 years. Justice has been delayed, but it must not be denied.”
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