SYDNEY, N.S. - A 78-year-old woman dubbed the "Black Widow" for her criminal past with other men has admitted to slipping tranquilizers into her newlywed husband's coffee while they were on a honeymoon last year.
Melissa Ann Shepard pleaded guilty Monday to administering a noxious thing and failing to provide the necessities of life after Fred Weeks, 75, became ill during a brief trip to Newfoundland last September.
An agreed statement of facts read by the Crown describes how Shepard mixed in the tranquilizers Lorazepam and Temazepam into his drinks while they were aboard a ferry from Cape Breton on their way to Port-aux-Basques, N.L.
"Shepard disclosed to investigators that she dissolved both medications in coffee that she then gave to Mr. Weeks over a period of time during the days leading up to Mr. Weeks' hospitalization," Crown prosecutor Gerald MacDonald told the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Sydney.
"She did this without the knowledge of Mr. Weeks."
Blonde and bespectacled, Shepard sat calmly in court as she entered her guilty pleas. The Crown agreed to withdraw an attempted murder charge. 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.
MacDonald said outside court there wasn't enough evidence to support the original charges because the Crown couldn't prove Shepard intended to kill Weeks.
But MacDonald said media coverage of Shepard's past brushes with the law was helpful because Weeks's family members quickly contacted police about her and were able to prevent further harm coming to him.
"It's only because of the public interest that this was nipped in the bud before it became something worse than it was," he said.
Weeks, who sat in court a few seats behind Shepard, declined comment.
The agreed statement of facts also describes Weeks's rapid decline in health during their brief time together as a married couple.
The statement says a Marine Atlantic employee told investigators that when Weeks came aboard the ferry bound for Newfoundland, he was spry enough to easily walk 200 metres from his car to an elevator and was cracking jokes when he and Shepard were escorted to their cabin on Sept. 26.
But Weeks was "a totally different person" the next day, the employee said, adding that Weeks was unable to walk, couldn't put on his sneakers, didn't know where his car keys were and required the use of a wheelchair.
Another employee said Weeks couldn't distinguish between the reverse and drive shifts in his car and didn't appear to know how to start it when the time came to leave the ferry on Sept. 27.
The couple briefly stayed in a Newfoundland hotel but checked out that same day before returning to North Sydney, N.S., where they stayed at a bed and breakfast. It was there he fell out of bed and was hospitalized, the statement says.
Nurses took urine and blood samples that showed Weeks 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, court heard. She also told hospital officials that Weeks, a father of six adult children, had no other family.
Shepard, born in Burnt Church, N.B., is known as the "Black Widow" or the "Internet Black Widow" because she has prior convictions stemming from her past relationships.
She was convicted of manslaughter in 1992 in the death of her second husband, Gordon Stewart, who she drugged and ran over twice with a car.
In 2005, Shepard — who has gone by several other surnames — was sentenced to five years in prison on seven counts of theft from a man in Florida who she had met online. Alex Strategos, now 81, said she stole $20,000 from him over the month that they lived together.
Shepard is to return to court Tuesday morning for a sentencing hearing. She faces a maximum sentence of two years for the charge of administering a noxious thing and 18 months for failing to provide the necessities of life.
She married Weeks in a civil ceremony on Sept. 25, a few weeks after they met. But their marriage was later declared invalid by the province's Vital Statistics Division after it said false information was provided on the marriage certificate.