Showing no remorse, a Fresno County jail inmate admitted in court Tuesday that four years ago he killed his cell mate, an accused child molester — claiming the slaying was a public service.
"Mercy was mixed with justice. He met his maker," 67-year-old Gary Dale Poole told Superior Court Judge Jonathan Conklin in admitting that he had killed Michael Stauff in April 2014.
Before sentencing Poole to 75 years to life in prison, Conklin called Poole's admission "striking in its audacity." That's because during his trial, Poole testified that Stauff, 62, had strangled himself with a bedsheet to spare his family grief.
"In trial, you said you were innocent. Today, we know that was an absolute fabrication. You did it," Conklin said in sentencing Poole to the maximum term under the law.
A jury in March deliberated only one hour before finding Poole guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Stauff, who was awaiting trial on charges of lewd or lascivious acts with a child and continuous sexual abuse of a child.
Correctional officers found Stauff's body on the floor, covered with a blanket, during the evening hours of April 10, 2014, after Poole called for help. Torn bedsheets twisted into a ligature were discovered around Stauff's neck.
Though Poole insisted on the witness stand that Stauff committed suicide, prosecutor Nathan Lambert told the jury that Coroner 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, Lambert said.
Court records say Poole's criminal history includes convictions for unlawful consensual sex with an inmate, burglary, bank robbery and robbery. At the time of Stauff's killing, Poole was in jail on drug charges, court records say.
A correctional officer last saw Stauff alive in his cell around 7 p.m. 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 liked to watch cooking shows in jail over Poole's objections, Lambert said.
In addition, Lambert said, Poole wrote a note to himself that outlined the pros and cons of the homicide investigation. The pros, Poole wrote, 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. He also washed his bloody hands.
Poole, however, told the jury that covering the body was the dignified thing to do.
In a letter to The Bee, Poole said he got a chuckle out of Lambert mentioning coffee as a possible motive for killing Stauff. In his letter, he made it clear that he hated child molesters: "I believe in the death penalty for anyone who preys on children in a sexual way."
Regarding Stauff, Poole said: "He had the opportunity to pray for forgiveness to God before he died. Hopefully, he received a pardon through Jesus."
Poole expressed similar words in court on Tuesday. Though he apologized to Stauff's family, he told Conklin he had "no feelings, no apology and no expectations" for killing Stauff.
Stauff's cousin, Lynda Qualls told the judge that she and her family had no ill-will toward Poole. She said she hoped that Poole would one day get mental health counseling in prison and have a positive impact on other inmates.
She said Poole's conviction was bittersweet: "It's been an extremely painful, roller coaster ride for us."
Qualls said she appreciated that her cousin's death was "valued by the court system and not swept under the rug." She praise Lambert, Conklin and homicide detective Mark Chapman for giving the family justice.
Stauff, Qualls said, was a lovable relative who took care of his 88-year-old mother. He was defenseless against Poole because he was chronically ill and had to use a wheelchair, Qualls said. "Our family does not seek revenge," Quall said. "But he left a scar in each of our hearts."
Poole listened attentively to Quall's remarks, but remained steadfast in his beliefs. Once Qualls completed her comments, Poole shouted out: "Ma'am, go talk to the children."