Blanche Taylor Moore, the star attraction of the celebrated arsenic poisoning trial, broke her long silence Wednesday and testified she never brought or fed Raymond Reid home-prepared food while he was hospitalized.
``I did not do anything that I feel harmed Raymond,' said Moore, 57, who took the stand in her own defense wearing a black suit, black hose and black pumps. Her trademark string of white pearls hung around her neck.Speaking in clear, unwavering tones, Moore said the only thing she fed Reid - her longtime boyfriend who died Oct. 7, 1986, of arsenic poisoning - was pureed food prepared by N.C. Baptist Hospital, where Reid spent four months.
``There has been some talk about banana pudding,' Moore offered, without prompting by defense attorney Mitchell McEntire. ``No, I did not bring him banana pudding ... And I never made peanut butter milkshakes.'
In Moore's 2 1/2 hours of testimony Wednesday - which resembled a long, biographical monologue occasionally interrupted by McEntire's questions - she sought to refute testimony delivered by various prosecution witnesses.
Last week, three intensive care nurses and several of Reid's relatives and friends testified that Moore received permission to feed Reid home-prepared foods in the hospital in late August, 1986. For a month, Moore routinely fed Reid his favorite foods: peanut butter milkshakes, corn bread and milk, iced tea, frozen yogurt, creamed soups and banana pudding, prosecution witnesses said.
The three nurses testified that on Oct. 1, 1986, they each saw Moore feeding Reid banana pudding. Moore offered some to them from a separate container. At the time, Reid's condition was improving. The next day, his condition worsened dramatically. He began showing symptoms of arsenic poisoning and died five days later.
Moore is being tried for first-degree murder in connection with Reid's death. She faces the death penalty if convicted. Her testimony will continue today.
As word spread Wednesday that Moore would testify, the sixth-floor courtroom in Forsyth Superior Court flooded with spectators. More than 200 people jammed the wooden benches, and about 30 people stood along the back wall.
The crowd was hushed when Moore first took the stand to describe in detail her small-town, Christian upbringing in Concord and Lexington mill villages.
Moore seemed keenly aware of the crowd, and while discussing James Taylor, she once spoke out to her dead husband's elderly sister in the audience.
``Ma'am?' she said, looking out at Jessie Taylor. She said then to Judge William Freeman: ``There is someone there trying to say something to me. Should I answer her?'
The judge said no, while Jessie Taylor vigorously shook her head. Jessie Taylor said she was not trying to get Moore's attention.
Later, as prosecutor Janet Branch whispered to prosecutor Vincent Rabil, Moore interrupted her testimony and asked, ``Is there a problem, Mrs. Branch?'
Moore is also charged with using arsenic to kill her first husband, James Taylor, in 1973, and with assaulting her current husband, the Rev. Dwight Moore, with arsenic in 1988 and 1989. Trial dates for those charges are not scheduled.
Although she has not begun discussing her relationship with Dwight Moore, she depicted her relationship with Taylor as one of deep love and support, only briefly marred by his gambling. She said the church cured him of that habit.
``I was always happy with James,' she said. ``I loved him very much. I did not like his gambling, but I loved him. I was very happy with him. We did everything together.'
Moore grew emotional once when describing the morning of Oct. 2, 1973, when she found her husband dead in bed.
Days before his death, she said, he was feverish - but she insisted that he never vomited or was nauseous, two symptoms of arsenic poisoning. She said he had a heart condition.
After finding his body, she said, ``I was devastated. I was shocked. I thought James was getting better. Then I go to his bed and find him dead. I was shocked. I called the rescue squad. It was instinct. I did what I had to do. And then ... '
Moore's voice trailed off. She dabbed at her reddened eyes with a tissue, quietly regained her composure and continued her testimony.
During the midafternoon break, the courtroom was abuzz with spectators discussing Moore's demeanor from the stand.
``That's my Blanche,' said a beaming Sam Kiser, Moore's brother. ``I think she's doing very well. She's been waiting a long time to talk, and she's got a lot to say.'
Dot Taylor Kernodle, James Taylor's sister, offered another view: ``She's trying to make an impression like she's Miss Goodie-Goodie, and she's not. She's backtracking on everything that's been in the paper (about the trial) ... I never believed my brother died of a heart attack like they said. I know now how my brother died.'
In the late afternoon, Moore testified in detail about two fires at her home in 1985 and about a subsequent sexual harassment lawsuit against Kroger, where she worked for 33 years.
Jurors often stared off into the courtroom during that testimony but refocused attention on Moore when she began discussing her relationship with Raymond Reid, a career Kroger employee she said she fell in love with in 1976.
She denied any relationship with Reid while Taylor was alive, as has been suggested by prosecution witnesses.
``Raymond and I were very, very much in love, very much in love,' Moore said. ``We would've been married if he hadn't died. But we could not have been more dedicated to each other if we had been married. The piece of paper would not have made that much difference.'
Moore's psychiatrist, Jesse McNiel, testified last week that while treating Moore for depression in 1985 and 1986, she complained about Reid being ``too whiny' and that he was not the man for her. She told McNiel she resented constantly having to drive to Kernersville to see Reid and that she knew she needed to break up with him.
On the stand, Moore said: ``I did not resent the fact that I had to drive to see him. I did not resent it. I did not regret it. In fact, I wish I could still do it.'
Moore said that in October 1985, she and Reid decided to stop seeing each other because of the pressure stemming from her then-pending sexual harassment lawsuit against Kroger. She said she saw Reid only twice - on March 1 and May 29, 1986 - before he was hospitalized May 30, 1986.
Dwight Moore testified two weeks ago that Blanche Moore spent New Year's Day 1986 with Reid, the day before he first began showing symptoms of arsenic poisoning.
Linda Reid Sykes, Reid's ex-wife, testified last week that she called Raymond Reid on May 16, 1986, to inquire about a car wreck their son had had. She said he broke off the call because he was sick and needed to vomit.
``He called me later and said, 'I don't know what I would do without Blanche,' ' Sykes recalled. `` 'She's bought my medicine, she's bought my groceries, she's cooked my meals.' '
Throughout her testimony, Moore would refer to earlier witnesses to refute their statements.
``I know it's been announced in here that I was pessimistic about Raymond's condition and that he wouldn't make it,' she said. ``But that's not true. I always thought he would make it because he was a fighter.'
Before Moore's testimony, McEntire called the Rev. James Rosser to testify as a character witness for the defendant. Rosser, a close friend of Dwight Moore's, said he believed Blanche Moore was devoted to her new husband and was distraught about Dwight Moore's near-fatal illness last year.
Prosecutor Branch then asked the minister to recall a conversation he had with Blanche Moore at a time when police knew that Dwight Moore had been poisoned with arsenic but Raymond Reid's body had not yet been exhumed.
Rosser said Blanche Moore feared investigators would blame her for her husband's poisoning, but he assured her that wouldn't be possible.
``Then Blanche said she had a real good friend who was just like a brother to her, but died,' Rosser testified. ``She said they were real close and that he left her some things. She said she hoped that all the things with Dwight wouldn't bring up any questions about Raymond's death.'