SYDNEY, N.S. – A Nova Scotia judge warned the public to be cautious of a 78-year-old woman known as the “Black Widow” as he sentenced her Tuesday to two years and nine months in prison for spiking her newlywed husband’s coffee with tranquilizers while on a honeymoon last fall.
Melissa Ann Shepard, who pleaded guilty Monday to administering a noxious substance and failing to provide the necessities of life to 76-year-old Fred Weeks, remains a public safety risk, Supreme Court Judge Joseph Kennedy said.
“People who have contact with this lady should be careful,” said Kennedy. “Do not allow yourself to be victimized.”
Shepard was sentenced to a 3 1/2 year prison term, but that was reduced because of time served in pretrial custody.
Kennedy said he agreed with the Crown’s argument that Shepard should be given the maximum sentence for the two charges, citing her record of victimizing elderly men.
“I think it’s fair to say that Melissa Shepard’s past gives some insight into Melissa Shepard’s present,” he said.
Shepard, who acquired the moniker of the “Black Widow” and the “Internet Black Widow,” was convicted of manslaughter in 1992 in the death of her second husband, Gordon Stewart, whom she drugged and ran over twice with a car.
She was also sentenced in 2005 to five years in prison on seven counts of theft from a man in Florida she had met online.
Blond and wearing small glasses, Shepard sat through the proceedings with little visible expression and declined to address the court. Weeks left the courthouse without comment.
Kennedy said Shepard had preyed on a man who was lonely and seeking companionship, describing her as “a woman in a hurry” who laced Weeks’ coffee with benzodiazepines just days after they had wed.
The two were married in a civil ceremony on Sept. 25 in New Glasgow. Aboard a ferry on their way to Newfoundland for their honeymoon, Weeks was in high spirits and cracking jokes, but that rapidly changed after Shepard slipped drugs into his coffee, court heard.
Within two days of their trip, Weeks had to be rolled off the boat in a wheelchair and the couple stayed at a Cape Breton bed and breakfast, according to an agreed statement of facts presented in court on Monday. It was there that he became so ill that he was taken to hospital, where nurses found that he had consumed 10 milligrams of Lorazepam and 30 milligrams of Temazepam, the statement says.
At the hospital, Shepard misinformed nurses and doctors about his health, saying he had prostate problems, bowel surgery and was suffering from dementia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, the court in Sydney was told. She also told hospital officials that Weeks, a father of six adult children, had no other family.
The Crown dropped an original charge of attempted murder, saying there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove Shepard intended to harm Weeks. Another charge of administering “a noxious thing” with intent to endanger life or cause bodily harm was reduced to the less serious charge of administering “a noxious thing” with intent to aggrieve or annoy a person.
Crown attorney Diane McGrath said prosecutors suspect Shepard had a financial motive. The statement of facts says notes seized by police in their investigation showed Shepard had written the words “lawyer,” “power of attorney” and “will” on hotel stationery as Weeks lay ill in hospital on Sept. 29.
“It would lead one to believe that she was taking steps to gain control of Mr. Weeks’ money,” McGrath said Tuesday outside court.
Kennedy also said the conduct was suspicious.
“At the time her new husband lies overdosed in a hospital bed, she’s moved on from doctors to lawyers,” he said. “Strange behaviour, unusual behaviour.”
But defence lawyer Allan Nicholson said he doesn’t think there was ever any intent by his client to harm Weeks. He argued she had simply miscalculated the dosage and erred in not telling him she was adding additional tranquilizers to his coffee.
“If you take a crass monetary look at it, he was certainly worth more alive than dead,” Nicholson said outside court.
She made notes about legal matters while her husband was ill because “she was an ex-secretary,” he added. “She was looking after business.
“I found she was a charming lady. She was very good to deal with.”
Her marriage to Weeks was later declared invalid by the province’s Vital Statistics Division after it said it received incorrect information on the marriage certificate.