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Suspect caught in slaying of News employee

Salt Lake City police, acting on a suspicious person call in Memory Grove park, arrested an ex-convict charged with killing a Deseret Morning News employee who had befriended him.

Police were able to determine the man was James William Tolbert, 41, and took him into custody around 9 p.m.

He was taken to the Salt Lake police station and Murray police were contacted. Murray detectives confirmed Tolbert's identity and he was transferred to their custody. He was being questioned late Thursday night in Murray about the murder of Ann Poulson. The 68-year-old woman was found strangled inside her Murray home, and Tolbert was charged this week with aggravated murder and robbery, both first-degree felonies.

For Poulson's family, the news of Tolbert's arrest came as a relief.

"The worst fear was that he would hurt somebody else," Alan Collier, Poulson's son-in-law, told the Deseret Morning News.

Poulson's son, Jon Carling, was relieved to learn of the arrest and surprised that it occurred so quickly.

"I thought he was long gone," Carling said. "I guess it's good that he'll be off the streets. ... We're glad he's safe now from himself, and ethically and morally safe from harming others."

Collier said family members had been afraid that they could be targets for Tolbert.

"He knew so many of the family, he could have found any one of us," he said Thursday. "This is a relief."

Poulson befriended Tolbert while volunteering at the Utah State Prison, where Tolbert was serving time for the 1987 strangling of his wife. When he was released after 18 years in prison, Poulson kept in contact with him. Friends and family said Tolbert visited Poulson's home and got to know members of her family.

In the weeks leading up to her murder, friends said, Poulson had expressed concern about the ex-convict, who had asked her for money and asked to move into her home. She had refused.

"We gave him our trust and confidence," Collier said. "I don't know how he could ever justify why he did the act he did."

When Poulson didn't show up to her part-time accounting job at the Deseret Morning News and neighbors hadn't seen her in days, Murray police were called to her home on Oct. 9. Officers forced their way into her home, where, court documents said, they found her dead on her bed.

"A belt had been wrapped around Ms. Poulson's neck," police wrote in documents filed with the criminal charges.

In the hallway, police said, they found her purse with its contents spilled out. Her keys were not in her purse and her 2002 Honda Accord was missing from its garage.

Ironically, two days before Poulson's body was found, Salt Lake City police officers encountered Tolbert at Sugarhouse Park. He admitted at the time he'd overdosed on heroin, court documents said. Tolbert was taken to a local hospital, where he walked out. Officers noticed a white 2002 Honda Accord in the park. It was still there on Oct. 10, the day after Poulson's body had been found.

Inside the car, police said, they found a tissue with blood on it and a wallet with Tolbert's identification. Court documents said forensic experts compared the DNA on the bloody tissue to samples collected from the belt around Poulson's neck and discovered they matched.

Tolbert was expected to be booked into the Salt Lake County Jail overnight. A $1 million warrant had been issued for his arrest when the charges were filed.

"I don't think my mother would feel vindication," Carling said. "She would just hope for the best for him. That's the way she was."


E-mail: preavy@desnews.com; bwinslow@desnews.com; rpalmer@desnews.com