Crime

Fresno inmate guilty of strangling his cellmate. Was he mad about not getting coffee?

As prosecutor Nathan Lambert asks questions,  Gary Dale Poole testifies from the witness stand, telling a Fresno Superior Court jury on Wednesday, March 28, 2018, that he didn't strangle his cellmate, 62-year-old Michael Stauff, inside the Fresno County Jail in April 2014. A jury on Thursday, March 29, 2018, found Poole guilty of first-degree murder.
As prosecutor Nathan Lambert asks questions, Gary Dale Poole testifies from the witness stand, telling a Fresno Superior Court jury on Wednesday, March 28, 2018, that he didn't strangle his cellmate, 62-year-old Michael Stauff, inside the Fresno County Jail in April 2014. A jury on Thursday, March 29, 2018, found Poole guilty of first-degree murder. PABLO LOPEZ

A Fresno County jail inmate was convicted Thursday of killing his cellmate four years ago by strangling him with torn bedsheets..

Correctional officers found Michael Stauff's body on the floor, covered with a blanket, during the evening hours of April 10, 2014, after his cellmate, Gary Dale Poole, called for help.

Torn bedsheets twisted into a ligature were discovered around Stauff's neck.

Charged with murder, Poole, 68, testified in his trial on Wednesday that the 62-year-old Stauff committed suicide to spare his family grief.

But prosecutor Nathan Lambert said in closing arguments of the trial on Thursday that pathologist Dr. Venu Gopal testified it would be impossible for Stauff to kill himself with a ligature made of ripped bedsheets. A person would pass out before he was able to strangle himself with the strands of bedsheets, Lambert told the jury.

The jury deliberated only one hour before finding Poole guilty of first-degree murder. Because Poole is a career criminal, he faces life in prison when Judge Jonathan Conklin sentences him on April 26.

Court records say Poole's criminal history includes convictions for unlawful sex with an inmate, bank robbery and robbery.

A correctional officer last saw Stauff alive in his cell around 7 p.m. April 10, 2014. He was found dead around 8 p.m.

At the time, detectives didn't have enough evidence to charge Poole with murder, so he was later released from jail. He was arrested on a murder charge in connection with Stauff's homicide in January 2016.

In his closing summation, Lambert told the jury that Poole was mad at Stauff. Lambert said Stauff's family would send him money to spend on food. Poole was broke and upset because Stauff wouldn't buy him coffee, Lambert said.

Poole also was upset because Stauff like to watch cooking shows in jail over Poole's objections, Lambert said.

According to Lambert, Poole made several incriminating statements.

After Stauff was killed, he told a detective, "I want to tell you something, in all seriousness, it was merciful." Poole testified he meant that Stauff's death would spared his family from hearing a guilty verdict on a felony charge and sending him money in prison.

Lambert said Poole also told a crime scene technician: "Is this your first big murder case?" Poole testified he said the remark because the technician appeared to be a rookie. But Lambert said when Poole made the statements, he didn't know detectives were investigating a murder.

In addition, after the murder, Poole wrote a note to himself that outline the pros and cons of the homicide investigation. Poole wrote the pros were no witnesses to Stauff's death and no motive since he and Stauff were on friendly terms. The cons, he said, would be the forensic evidence.

After Stauff was killed, Lambert said, Poole moved the body and covered it with a blanket. Poole told the jury it was the dignified thing to do.

Poole then washed his bloody hands with soap, Lambert said.

In addition, Lambert said, three days before the killing, Poole tipped his mental state when he sought medical treatment for a broken his right hand. According to Lambert, Poole wrote on a jail form asking for treatment: "This untimely delay is putting me in jeopardy, as well as those housed with me, and jail staff."

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts
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