Life sentence, no chance of parole for 16 years for Alberta man who stalked, killed estranged wife

A Wainwright man who stalked and then killed his estranged wife in 2017 will serve a life sentence with no chance to apply for parole for 16 years, an Edmonton judge ruled Thursday.

Nichole McKeith's family remain shattered by her death

Robert Clifford was sentenced to life in prison with no chance to apply for parole for 16 years for the second-degree murder of his estranged wife, Nichole McKeith. (Remembering Nichole McKeith/Facebook)

A central Alberta man who stalked and killed his estranged wife in 2017 will serve a life sentence with no chance to apply for parole for 16 years, an Edmonton judge ruled Thursday.

Last month, Robert Clifford, 41, was found guilty of the second-degree murder of Nichole McKeith, 31.

The mother of two was killed in February 2017 in the Wainwright home she once shared with her husband, 53 days after they separated. 

Before the sentence was handed down in Court of King's Bench, Nichole's mother Delilah McKeith addressed the court, describing the anguish and instability her daughter's killing brought to her life.

"My life has been destroyed, the lives of two small children have been destroyed," she said, adding that she and her husband have adopted Nichole and Robert's two children.

She spoke about the fear the family lived with and the security measures they took when Clifford was released on bail. 

"I couldn't let the kids out of my sight because I was always scared," she said.

McKeith also read a poem she wrote to her daughter, which remembered Nichole as a "super mom" who worked three jobs.

"My heart always will be your way home," McKeith recited.

An undated photo of Nichole McKeith. (Remembering Nichole McKeith/Facebook)

Nineteen victim impact statements were entered with the court, some of which Justice Nicholas Devlin read as part of his sentencing decision.

Nichole's son's statement was a picture he drew of himself and his mom, writing "Why would you do that to your wife? If she were alive you should say you're sorry you big jerk."

The young boy added that he is glad his father is being sentenced because "I was afraid if he gets out he'd yell at me."

The couple's daughter also provided a statement, saying "I feel unsafe all the time."

Devlin made a no-contact order that will prevent Clifford from contacting the children or their grandparents, along with a weapons prohibition and an order to provide a DNA sample.

Joint submission on sentencing

A life sentence is automatic with a second-degree murder conviction, but the parole eligibility period varies, beginning from a minimum of 10 years. 

The Crown prosecutor and defence made a joint submission that the eligibility term should be set at 16 years in this case, which Devlin accepted.

Defence lawyer Curtis Mennie told the court his client did not oppose the no-contact order with the children and said his client did not wish to address the court.

"He says the greatest achievement in his life have been his children," Mennie said.

He added that his client still has the support of his parents.

Clifford sat still throughout the hearing, eyes downcast, but nodded briefly when Devlin addressed him directly. 

Last month marked the second time he was convicted of killing his wife.

In June 2021, a mistrial was declared before he could be sentenced after the judge found the Crown hadn't included evidence about a beer can that could have been relevant.

In his decision Thursday, Devlin revisited the evidence from the trial, finding that Clifford was stalking Nichole after she attempted to end the relationship.

Two women look at the camera
Nichole McKeith and her mother Dalilah McKeith in an undated photo. (Delilah McKeith/Facebook)

He had an "obsessive and transgressive focus on Nichole after their separation," the judge said.

Despite restraining orders and an arrest for breaching them after he broke into the home and hid under a bed, Clifford persisted, the judge found, until the day he confronted Nichole, ultimately stabbing her 17 times.

"The killing itself was a savage, rage-fuelled act of violence," Devlin said.

Devlin found that the domestic nature of the murder, the brutal and callous manner of it, the stalking, the intense harm to their children and that he committed the crime while subject to a restraining order were all aggravating factors in his decision. 

The only mitigating factors were the efficiency with which his lawyer made arguments, and that he had been a contributing member of society until his marriage broke down.

Devlin cited domestic homicide statistics in his ruling, saying that the rate at which women are murdered by their domestic partners in Canada is "unacceptable and a shame on our society."

"Her death was a tragedy. It should not have happened," he said.


Paige Parsons is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She has specialized in justice issues and city hall, but now covers anything from politics to rural culture. She previously worked for the Edmonton Journal. She can be reached at paige.parsons@cbc.ca.