A woman accused of fatally poisoning her live-in boyfriend three years ago in Baton Rouge isn’t a “black widow” or a killer, a lawyer who is considering representing her said Thursday.
Meshell Hale, 50, was scheduled to be arraigned on a first-degree murder charge, but after prosecutor Dana Cummings and lawyer Joel Porter met briefly with state District Judge Richard Anderson at the bench the judge gave Hale until Jan. 7 to hire a new attorney.
Hale’s previous attorneys withdrew from her case Oct. 17. She had been indicted two weeks earlier by an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury in the death of Damian Skipper, 41.
Porter said outside Anderson's courtroom that he and Hale’s family are having serious discussions about him representing her. He also disputed the narrative that prosecutors have put forth so far.
“They have made this lady out to be a 'black widow.' She is a mother and a grandmother. She’s not a monster. She’s not a murderer,” he said.
Porter said he is continuing his preliminary investigation into Hale’s case and is meeting with other lawyers, saying the representation of Hale would be a team effort.
“Things are not always what they seem to be,” he said of the allegations made against Hale. “There is a story that’s yet to be told.”
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III responded to Porter’s remarks by saying, “We respect the system and understand our burden of proof as well as the ability and choice that those accused have to present their case in court and not be tried in the media.”
It was originally thought that Skipper died of a heart attack in June 2015. But after Hale's husband, Arthur Noflin Jr., was found dead in the back seat of his burned truck in New Orleans in March 2016 and police discovered she allegedly had researched barium poisoning and bought barium acetate before each man's death, Skipper's body was exhumed. It was determined he died of barium poisoning.
Skipper was hospitalized several times with abdominal pain and related symptoms before his death, and Noflin became sick with the same symptoms six months after Skipper died, according to Hale’s arrest warrant.
Hale, who claimed she was Skipper’s wife at the time of his death and collected $10,000 in life insurance proceeds, also is under investigation in Noflin's death, prosecutors have said.
Hale is trying to collect $750,000 in life insurance proceeds as Noflin’s sole beneficiary, but a judge has put a civil case involving that money on hold until the criminal proceedings against Hale are completed. Noflin’s family also is contesting Hale’s claim to the insurance money.