The Baton Rouge woman convicted of murdering her live-in boyfriend will remain in prison while filing appeals, after a controversial post-conviction bail given by a judge was tossed out, the Advocate reports.
After convicting 55-year-old Meshell Hale of poisoning Damien Paul Skipper, 41, in 2015, retired District Judge Raymond Bigelow also outraged Skipper’s family by granting Hale a $300,000 bond, the Advocate explains. It could have potentially let a convicted killer back out on the streets.
Prosecutors called the move unprecedented, and filed for an emergency order to keep Hale behind bars, the Advocate says. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal threw out the bond, deeming the judge’s decision to be an abuse of power during a Dec. 29, 2022 hearing, returning the case to the 19th Judicial District Court.
On May 30, 2023, District Judge Gail Horne Ray finalized the decision to keep Hale incarcerated by denying the motion to set bond, the Advocate says. She said while the law does permit judges to set post-conviction bonds for killers, this is the first time she’s seen it in her 44 years as a judge.
“I have to go back to the fact that her presumption of innocence no longer exists. She was convicted – not by a jury of her peers, but by a judge, based on her decision,” Ray remarked.
Ray remanded Hale back to state prison to serve her life sentence for second-degree murder while beginning the appeal process, the Advocate says.
Assistant District Attorney Dana Cummings, the prosecutor from Hale’s trial, said Hale could easily disappear from law enforcement’s radar should she walk free, the Advocate says.
“Meshell Hale has every reason to flee. Appeals take forever sometimes. As you know well, appellate attorneys can drag their feet. If she’s out on bond, it actually, factually and realistically is a reduction of a life sentence,” Cummings said.
Bigelow claimed he had “thought about this quite a bit” when he made the decision to grant the bond, though he still revoked Hale’s passport, ordered her to wear a GPS monitor, and remain on house arrest if she was released, the Advocate says.
Hale’s defense attorney, James Phillip Manasseh, claimed to narrow in on potential weaknesses in the prosecution’s case that could bolster their chances in the appeals process, the Advocate says.
“After hearing all the facts, after seeing and knowing everything about this case, he felt that it was appropriate to set a post-conviction bail of $300,000. He obviously felt that there were some issues that were significant and are worthy of being heard. And felt that based upon that, bail should be allowed in this particular case,” Mannasseh said.
Skipper’s death was not initially believed to be foul play until six months later, when another man with whom Hale was romantically involved turned up dead in a burned out truck on a New Orleans street on the night of March 18, 2016, according to a previous NOLA report. Hale and that man, Arthur Noflin, weren’t living together at the time, though she called him her husband.
The arrest warrant alleged that in the months preceding their deaths, both men suffered the same symptoms of abdominal pain, weakness, and vomiting, and only one woman connected them both; one they called a lover. Hale was the beneficiary of life insurance for the two men and received a $10,000 payout following Skipper’s death.
Noflin’s suspicious death led police to look into Skipper’s death, and a 2017 toxicology report after exhuming Skipper’s body confirmed he had died of barium poisoning, the Advocate says. Police discovered that Hale purchased barium in 2015 and 2016. Hale was arrested on June 5, 2018, and will remain behind bars to serve out her sentence while filing for an appeal.