Orleans Parish coroner's investigator testifies in BR woman's murder trial, avoiding possible arrest
BATON ROUGE, La. – The chief pathologist for the Orleans Parish coroner testified in a Baton Rouge courtroom Monday, avoiding any possible delays or drama after a warrant was issued for her arrest earlier this week during an already-sensational trial.
Dr. Samantha Huber was the latest witness called in the case against Meshell Hale, who is on trial for allegedly poisoning Damian Skipper, a man she referred to as her “husband,” in June 2015. Hale was charged with first-degree murder.
Skipper's death was originally attributed to a heart attack, but that changed after a later autopsy report found barium acetate, a powerful poison, in his system.
Hale, 54, is also suspected of poisoning her husband almost a year later.
Arthur Noflin was reportedly killed and found in a burning car in New Orleans in March 2016. Hale reported him missing several days later. No one was arrested, but an investigation determined Noflin had been poisoned prior to his death.
Hale claimed to be married to Skipper, but investigators said she was only legally married to Noflin. Hale was also the sole beneficiary of Noflin's $750,000 insurance policy.
Huber, who was a no-show Tuesday since she reportedly had COVID-19, testified that Noflin’s manner and cause of death could not be determined because his body was too badly burned, leading some family members to leave the courtroom in tears.
Huber testified that while there was barium in Noflin’s liver, the levels were too low to kill him.
“It’s suspicious,” she said of Noflin’s death before adding it could not be proven a homicide.
The circumstances surrounding both deaths led investigators to exhume Skipper's body and examine it further, leading to the discovery of poison in his system and ultimately causing his death to be labeled a homicide.
New Orleans Police Department Sgt. Deborah Norman Pruitt testified that Hale seemed shocked to hear about Noflin’s death after his body was found in a truck in the city’s Lower 9th Ward.
Family members let out audible gasps when Pruitt said Hale did not cry when she told her about the burned body.
Prosecutors said they expect the bench trial, being heard by District Judge Raymond Bigelow, to come to a close within the week.
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