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Fugitive charged with killing News employee

James William Tolbert strangled Deseret Morning News employee Ann Poulson to death with a belt, according to court documents.

On Wednesday, Tolbert, 41, who has been on the run since Poulson's body was discovered, was charged with criminal homicide and aggravated robbery, both first-degree felonies. A $1 million warrant was issued for his arrest.

Poulson's family is now making a plea to the community to be on the lookout for Tolbert and report him to police, "so the investigation can proceed and no further harm can be done to himself or others," according to a statement released Wednesday.

Family members say it's heartbreaking that a person Poulson worked with to help make him a good member of the community would turn on her in such a horrible way.

"James now appears to have betrayed her trust in an unnecessary and tragic manner that has left the family devastated and community deprived of one of its finest citizens," the family said in its statement.

Police found Poulson, 68, dead in her home, 820 E. 5200 South, on Oct. 9 after concerned neighbors called to say they hadn't seen her in a couple of days. Poulson, who worked part time in accounting for the News, did not show up for work that day.

Officers forced their way into Poulson's house, where they found her body on her bed.

"A belt had been wrapped around Ms. Poulson's neck," according to court documents.

In the hall, police found her purse with its contents spilled out. Her keys were not in her purse, and her white 2002 Honda Accord was missing from the garage, court documents state.

Family members and neighbors all gave Tolbert's name to police as a person of interest after her body was discovered.

Tolbert was convicted of second-degree felony murder in 1987 for strangling his wife. He spent 18 years in the Utah State Prison before being released.

During his time in prison, Tolbert met Poulson, who did volunteer work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The two struck up a friendship and stayed in contact after his release.

Friends and family members say Tolbert visited Poulson's house after he was released from prison. But in the weeks leading up to her death, Poulson expressed increasing concern about Tolbert, who had been asking her for money and even asked to move in, which she refused.

Family members said that, for nearly two decades, Tolbert showed no indication of being a threat to Poulson.

"Contact between them was infrequent and restricted to personal encouragement," the family stated. "Ann made it clear to James that she had no ability or interest to assist him financially."

She was disappointed that Tolbert had lost his job, according to neighbors. He was fired after his employer received complaints from women who claimed he harassed them, according to court documents.

Two days before Poulson's body was found, Salt Lake City police had a run-in with Tolbert at Sugarhouse Park. Tolbert was having trouble breathing and admitted to police he had overdosed on heroin, according to court records.

Tolbert was taken to a local hospital. He walked out and hasn't been seen since.

Alan Collier, Poulson's son-in-law, said there was never any indication during the times Ann had contact with Tolbert that he was on drugs or using drugs.

On Oct. 8, police noticed a white four-door 2002 Honda Accord parked in Sugarhouse Park. On Oct. 10, the day after Poulson's body was found, police announced they had found Poulson's missing vehicle in the park.

Inside the car, detectives say, they found a tissue with blood on it and a wallet with Tolbert's ID. Forensic experts compared DNA from the bloody tissue to samples collected from the belt found around Poulson's neck and discovered they matched, according to court documents.

A separate check of the blood in the Utah State Crime Lab's DNA database confirmed the blood was Tolbert's, court documents state.

On Oct. 19, a federal no-bail warrant was issued for Tolbert's arrest for parole violation. The U.S. Attorney's Office Friday filed a complaint of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. The parole violation came on Oct. 6 when Tolbert allegedly hit an acquaintance, another parolee, with a "crowbar type object."

Investigators believe Tolbert has fled to either Nevada or California, according to court documents. Murray police are offering a reward up to $5,000 for information leading to Tolbert's arrest. Tips can be called in at 840-4000.