Interview with a bartender: Melchiorre got to know convicted killer in jail
By WILL BLAIR
In a community like ours, when you mention the name Michelle Garner Hall, the wife convicted of killing her husband, John “Britt” Hall, by multiple gunshot wounds in July 2008, the conversation can turn tense.
Many Coweta residents have some type of connection with one or both of the Newnan High School graduates. Some may have shared a math class with Michelle or a basketball court with Britt. But whatever their story or connectedness to the subjects involved in such a grisly crime, very few can say they shared jail time with Michelle after she was convicted of shooting her husband to death.
Kelly Melchiorre, a tattooed-covered, redheaded, 23-year-old bartender at the Alamo in downtown Newnan, was a jail mate with Hall in the Coweta County Jail and remembers the experience well.
“I was stupid,” Melchiorre says, referencing the fact she’d been arrested for breaking into a church with some friends and subsequently jailed for violation of probation after failing to meet the requirements of community service.
As a result of her youthful lapse in judgment, she spent one month in early 2010 in a cell next to Hall, whose trial had ended several months earlier and was awaiting a lifetime appointment with a state prison in Habersham County.
“She was really nice, motherly,” Melchiorre says of her first impression of Hall. “I had no idea who she was or why she was in jail.”
Of course, it didn’t take long for her to find out.
“After about a week I heard the story from some of the others,” Melchiorre says. “And Michelle was pretty candid about it once I knew.”
Hall’s side of the story mirrored that which she’d testified in Coweta Superior Court. That her despondent husband was attempting suicide. That she’d fought him over the gun. That she’d wrestled the gun away but it discharged.
That she’d shot him accidentally.
In September 2009, court evidence determined that several shots had been fired and that Britt Hall had been hit three times, once in the chest. Evidence also determined the gun had been reloaded between injuries to Britt Hall.
“At the time, she had me convinced she was innocent,” Melchiorre says. “I can’t stress enough how friendly, maternal, she was toward me – toward everybody.”
One day, according to Melchiorre, a 17-year-old shoplifter was admitted to the jail. As extra punishment, the distraught, crying teenager’s parents had threatened to leave her in jail for as long as possible.
“Michelle was the first to comfort the girl and tell her it was going to be OK,” Melchiorre says. “That’s just how she was. She talked about her children a lot and was constantly writing letters. She was particularly upset because, at the time, they weren’t talking to her.”
The two talked five or six times a week, most often during down time outside their cells. Melchiorre adds that Hall always referred to the victim as “my husband,” not “former,” not “deceased.”
“Looking back, I don’t think she was in denial,” Melchiorre says, suggesting these could have been Hall’s more calculated moments as she maintained her innocence – to project a state of denial.
One of the few times Melchiorre ventured into Hall’s cell, in a scene antithetical to the image Hall projected most of the time, she and another inmate were playing on a homemade Ouija board and invited Melchiorre to join.
“I didn’t stay long,” Melchiorre says. “Felt strange. Still, at the time, I thought there was no way in hell she could possibly have killed someone. The way she talked about her kids while sitting outside made her seem so normal. She was so non-threatening.”
If the makeshift Ouija board had indeed spoken to Hall that night, then perhaps it had predicted she soon would be the featured criminal on an episode of “Snapped,” a true crime show that aired on the Oxygen Channel in August 2010. A show that, coupled with researched news reports, encouraged Melchiorre to reconsider her opinion.
“Well, after what I’ve watched and read since, I do think she’s guilty.”
Nevertheless, senior Judge Robert B. Struble ruled on March 19 that Hall is entitled to a new trial based on a recent habeas corpus hearing.
Any new trial will not take place for months and only after an appeal of Struble’s ruling has been heard. If so, the Coweta community will once again relive one of its most unsettling chapters in recent memory.
Some of Hall’s supporters contend she was a woman who, in the heat of a domestic dispute, committed a mortal mistake that many of us could also make during an angry, inopportune moment where a firearm is readily available.
Still, as has been recorded many times since July 30, 2008, a fine, inescapable line was crossed.
As for Melchiorre, the bartender’s attitude toward Hall post jail time is somewhat pragmatic. She’s familiar with Hall’s story now and well remembers the woman who sometimes sobbed from her cell in the middle of the night, but who was also quick to offer a goodbye hug once the bartender’s own one-month stint was up.
If Hall were to one day enter the bar and acknowledge their acquaintanceship, with a shrug, Melchiorre says her reaction should be obvious.
“I’d offer her a drink.”