A 51-year-old Baton Rouge woman pleaded not guilty Monday to first-degree murder in the 2015 poisoning death of her live-in boyfriend, and her new attorney wasted no time trying to change the narrative authorities have put forth.
Prosecutors have alleged that Meshell Hale killed 41-year-old Damian Skipper to collect on his $10,000 life insurance policy.
Shortly before Hale’s arraignment Monday, lawyer Joel Porter filed a motion to enroll as her attorney and stated in the documents that Skipper made Hale the policy beneficiary years before his death and "unbeknownst" to her.
“Meshell Hale did not encourage, seek, induce or coerce Skipper to name her as the beneficiary of the policy,” Porter wrote.
Hale, who was indicted in October by an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury, is being prosecuted under a provision of the state’s first-degree murder statute that applies when the defendant has the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm and has “received anything of value for the killing.”
Porter added that Hale had “absolutely no involvement” in the death of Skipper in June 2015.
Prosecutors have said Hale claimed to be Skipper’s wife when he died, even though she was married to another man, Arthur Noflin Jr., who turned up dead in New Orleans in March 2016. Hale also is under investigation in his death.
It was initially thought Skipper died of a heart attack and no autopsy was performed. But after Noflin’s charred body was found in his burned truck in New Orleans, police discovered that Hale allegedly researched barium poisoning and bought barium acetate before each man's death, prompting the exhumation of Skipper's body.
It was determined Skipper died of barium poisoning.
Prosecutor Dana Cummings told state District Judge Richard Anderson on Monday that the state hasn’t decided whether to pursue the death penalty against Hale.
Skipper was hospitalized several times with abdominal pain and related symptoms before his death, and Noflin became ill with the same symptoms six months after Skipper died, Hale's arrest warrant states.
Hale’s attempt to collect $750,000 in life insurance proceeds as Noflin’s sole beneficiary stalled last year when a judge put a civil case involving the money on hold until the criminal proceedings against her are completed.
The documents Porter filed Monday indicate Skipper pleaded guilty in St. Martin Parish in 1996 to contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, a charge that was reduced from carnal knowledge of a juvenile, and was given a suspended two-year prison sentence and put on probation for a year. Skipper was living in Breaux Bridge at the time. In 2003 in East Baton Rouge Parish, the documents show, Skipper pleaded guilty to carnal knowledge of a juvenile and was given a 2½-year prison term. He also was ordered to register as a convicted sex offender.
Hale, originally from Slaughter, is scheduled to appear again in the 19th Judicial District Courthouse on April 8. She is being held without bail.