Man Sentenced To Life Without Parole In 1991 Slaying Of Woman

BRISTOL, Pa. (AP) — A man has been sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole in the slaying of a Pennsylvania woman more than three decades ago and an arson fire set at her suburban Philadelphia home that authorities said was intended to cover up the crime.

Robert Atkins, 57, was sentenced Friday in Bucks County Court after being convicted a day earlier of first-degree murder and two counts of arson in the April 1991 death of 35-year-old Joy Hibbs in Bristol Township.

Authorities said the victim's body was found after the fire at the Bristol Township home, and an autopsy later concluded that she had been stabbed and strangled. Prosecutors alleged that a dispute over a marijuana sale escalated when Atkins threatened to kill Hibbs and blow up her house. Atkins was arrested in the case in May 2022.

Defense attorney Craig Penglase argued that the case was built on a “mountain of doubt” following pressure from Hibbs' family and media reports on the case. He accused detectives in the initial investigation of mishandling evidence and failing to pursue other potential suspects.

Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr. said before sentencing that Atkins had robbed Hibbs’ family of a future with her.

“The depraved level of violence is almost unimaginable,” he said. “They were living the American dream. You didn’t just take her life, you took that from them.”

Atkins was sentenced to the mandatory life-without-parole term in the murder conviction and to an additional five to seven years on one arson conviction and a 10- to 20-year concurrent term on the other arson conviction, prosecutors said.

Outside of the courtroom, David Hibbs, Joy Hibbs’ youngest child, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the family had begun to heal after three decades of fighting to solve his mother’s case.

“We’re sorry that it took 32 years to get here, but we finally got justice for Joy,” he said.