A woman who collected $10,000 in life insurance proceeds after the 2015 death of a Baton Rouge man she claimed to be married to was indicted Wednesday on first-degree murder, accused of poisoning him.
Meshell Hale, 50, could face the death penalty if convicted as charged in the death of Damian Skipper, 41, but East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office has neither discussed nor decided on the death penalty issue.
Hale also remains under investigation in the 2016 death of her legal husband, 42-year-old Arthur Noflin Jr., whose body was found burned beyond recognition in the back seat of a pickup in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward, authorities have said. Hale has not been arrested in his death.
She also is trying to collect $750,000 in life insurance proceeds as the sole beneficiary on Noflin's policy, but Noflin's family is contesting her claim. A civil court case involving the $750,000 has been put on hold until the completion of criminal proceedings against Hale.
Investigators have been looking at Hale’s daughter Dominique Hale and her partner, Nina Alexander, in the possible dumping of Noflin’s body and truck in New Orleans. Noflin lived in Baton Rouge.
“Our office and investigating agencies are actively investigating the death of Arthur Noflin and the involvement of those who are aware and who participated in his murder,” Moore said.
Hale was booked in early June on a count of second-degree murder in the death of Skipper, and several weeks later, Skipper's mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Hale. In the suit, Linda Skipper says she learned from Noflin's mother in late 2016 that Hale had been married to Noflin since 2008.
Linda Skipper was in the courtroom Wednesday when an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury returned its indictment of Hale.
“Ms. Skipper is relieved that justice is being served and that the legal system is addressing the terrible wrong done to her son and that her family has suffered,” Sharonda Williams, her attorney, said in a statement released shortly after the indictment was announced.
Hale’s attorney, George Grace Jr., expressed disappointment with the grand jury’s decision but said Hale will “vigorously fight” the murder charge.
“We’re looking forward to our day in court,” he said.
The indictment alleges Hale committed the killing of Skipper “on or about May 8, 2015 through June 30, 2015.”
The June 2015 death of Skipper, who authorities say was Hale’s live-in boyfriend, was originally believed to have been due to a heart attack.
But after Noflin died in March 2016 and police discovered Hale allegedly had researched barium poisoning and purchased barium acetate before each man's death, Skipper's body was exhumed, and the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office determined he died from barium poisoning.
Skipper had been hospitalized several times with abdominal pain and related symptoms, and Noflin became sick with the same symptoms six months after Skipper died, Hale's arrest warrant states. The suit that Skipper’s mother filed against Hale says Damian Skipper thought his illness may have been food poisoning caused by Hale’s cooking.
Hale, according to authorities, searched the internet in February 2015 — four months before Skipper died — for such phrases as “barium poisoning heart failure” and “is barium acetate soluble in alcohol.”
After Noflin was found dead, the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office found that Noflin did not inhale any smoke, meaning he was dead before his body was burned.
At the time of Skipper’s death, Hale claimed to be Skipper's wife and received $10,000 from his life insurance policy.
Hale, originally from Slaughter, is being prosecuted under a provision of Louisiana's first-degree murder statute that applies when the offender has the specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm "and has … received anything of value for the killing."
Authorities say Hale reviewed Skipper’s medical benefits online two weeks before his death.
She is being held without bail. Her case is assigned to state District Judge Richard Anderson.