Saturday, December 13, 2008

Murderer's Death Penalty Overturned

Mark Poole to Get a New Hearing

By Suzie Schottelkotte
The Ledger

Published: Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 7:00 a.m.

BARTOW Convicted murderer Mark Anthony Poole, who was sentenced to death in 2005, is no longer on death row, at least for now.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Assistant State Attorney John Aguero erred when he asked witnesses about Poole's prior criminal history during the sentencing hearing in Poole's trial.

The court upheld Poole's conviction on first-degree murder, rape and armed robbery, but overturned his death sentence and sent the case back to Circuit Court.

Now Circuit Judge J. Dale Durrance will schedule another hearing before handing down a new sentence.

A Polk County jury deliberated about 30 minutes before finding Poole, 45, guilty of fatally beating 24-year-old Noah Scott with a tire iron during a 2001 home invasion in Lakeland.

Scott and his 18-year-old fiancé, who was five months pregnant, were sleeping when Poole broke into their mobile home in the Orangewood Village Mobile Home Park during the predawn hours on Oct. 12, according to prosecutors.

Armed with the tire iron, he beat Scott at least 13 times in the head while Scott tried to pull Poole off of his fiancé, they said.

Poole was convicted of beating the woman about the head during the rape, leaving deep gashes that exposed her skull.

During the sentencing phase of the 2005 trial, Aguero agreed not to mention Poole's criminal history because defense lawyers didn't plan to argue that his past crimes were insignificant.

But when Poole's younger brother took the stand, Aguero raised the issue, asking Joe Poole Jr. whether he knew that his brother had been arrested in South Carolina, Texas and Georgia.

The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Aguero's question disclosed that Poole had been arrested before.

"By this point," the ruling states, "the damage had been done and the jury knew that Poole had a criminal history."

Chief Assistant State Attorney Chip Thullbery said Thursday that prosecutors are ready to argue again for a death sentence.

"We are prepared to relitigate the sentence," he said, "and we will continue to seek the death penalty."

At the time of his 2005 sentencing, Judge Durrance said Poole's actions were so "conscienceless or pitiless and unnecessarily torturous" that they rose to the level of "heinous, atrocious and cruel" - an aggravating circumstance that can provide the legal basis for a death sentence.

Mitigating evidence presented by Poole's lawyers didn't outweigh the aggravating circumstances prosecutors presented, Durrance said.

Two mental health experts testified that Poole isn't insane but does have a low intellect, a substance-abuse problem and moderate brain damage. Durrance said he considered that evidence.

The judge noted that Poole has criminal histories in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

Durrance dismissed the defense's claim that Poole was a religious person.

The judge pointed out that Poole didn't seize an opportunity to show sorrow at a July 22 hearing.

"You offered no apology," Durrance said. "You showed no repentance, and you demonstrated no remorse."

Instead, Poole expressed his dissatisfaction with Assistant State Attorney John Aguero, his own defense lawyers and the makeup of the jury.

"He complained that the weapon should not have been called a crowbar because it was only a tire iron, and he complained that the victim, (Scott's fiancee), was provided tissues while on the witness stand," Durrance wrote in his order.

[ Suzie Schottelkotte can be reached at or 863-533-9070. Ledger reporter Jason Geary contributed to this article. ]

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