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Visalia Man Receives Life Sentence in Case Worthy of ‘Dateline’



Joseph Allen Hughes, right, at the time of his November 2017 arrest for strangling his wife in Visalia in 2006. (Facebook/Visalia PD).
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In a case worthy of “Dateline,” a Visalia man has been sentenced to life in prison for strangling his wife to death 16 years ago.

Joseph Allen Hughes booking photo

Joseph Allen Hughes, 45, received a life sentence for the 2006 strangulation murder of his wife, Sonia.

Tulare County Judge Nathan Leedy imposed the sentence on Joseph Allen Hughes, 45, on Dec. 16.

The sentencing followed Leedy’s finding that Hughes was guilty of second-degree murder on Nov. 18 at the conclusion of a bench trial.

A bench trial is conducted by a judge without a jury. However, the same rules of evidence and methods of objections apply.

According to state law, Hughes must serve 15 years before being considered for parole.

Body Found in Shallow Mill Creek Grave

The road to justice for Sonia Hughes, who was 31 at the time of her murder, has been tortuous.

Joseph Hughes told police in October 2006 that his wife had run away. However, one of her family members filed a missing person report and, in November of that year, her body was found in a shallow grave along Mill Creek near Akers Street and Hillsdale Avenue.

For 10 years, Hughes insisted that his wife had left him and he had nothing to do with her homicide. But, in February 2016, according to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office, “a family member with intimate knowledge” of what happened contacted Visalia detectives.

The tipster said that they saw and heard Hughes beating Sonia at their residence in the 100 block of North Granite Street the night he claimed she left.

Police Arrest Hughes 11 Years Later

Further investigation over the next 21 months produced the evidence required for Hughes’ arrest for murder. At the time of his 2017 arrest, Hughes was serving time in state prison for robbery and felony vandalism.

(You can view Visalia PD video of Hughes’ arrest at this link.)

Senior deputy DA Adam Clare prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the Visalia Police Department.


Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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