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Judge Sentences Poulton To Five Years For Arson

By Staff | Oct 29, 2008

Judge John Madden sentenced Michael Poulton to five years in the West Virginia Penitentiary for Men after a sentencing hearing held Oct. 24 in Wetzel County Circuit Court.

Poulton, 32, of 1227 Wren Dr., New Martinsville, was charged with first degree arson in connection with the June 1 blaze at 1227 Wren St., New Martinsville.

Madden heard arguments on a defense petition for probation from both Prosecutor Timothy Haught and Defense attorney Richard Hollingsworth.

The plea agreement entered into on Aug. 1 called for a sentence of five years in the WVPM. “The state feels that sentence is reasonable under the circumstances,” said Haught.

He offered that the main reason Poulton started the fire was spite because his mother had left the home and its belongings to Cathy Estep.

“This was a very dangerous event for the firemen and the people who live in that subdivision,” said Haught.

Hollingsworth argued that the fire was not dangerous as no fireman ever entered the building and the houses in Hillside are at least 100 feet apart. Haught said any time emergency personnel arrive on a fire scene, it is dangerous.

Hollingsworth asked Madden to look beyond this troubled individual and look at his history. His father left the family when Poulton was five and he was raised by a mother who was sickly. Poulton dropped out of Magnolia High School when he was in the 10th grade.

But since he was released from jail in November 2007, “He is drinking less. . . he’s trying to get his life in order,” said Hollingsworth. Poulton has earned his certification in welding and is working as a Boilermaker. If he is incarcerated, the attorney said Poulton would have no ability to pay restitution.

However, Hollingsworth seemed to question whether Westfield Insurance Company even cared to obtain the over $190,000 they paid out in the case. The company chose not to file suit. Plus, he claimed Estep did not suffer as she received over $190,000 from the insurance company.

Poulton lost everything in the fire, said his defense attorney, “He has suffered quite a bit. He doesn’t know how the house caught on fire.”

In the opinion of Hollingsworth, not a health care professional, Poulton is suffering from acute, severe, recurrent depression. The defense attorney does not believe Poulton would get mental health treatment if incarcerated.

During further arguments, Hollingsworth referenced the case of Cindy Nottingham, 32, of Court Street, Middlebourne, who received probation for her arson charge.

Nottingham pleaded guilty on May 5 to setting fire to her own house in Proctor and to the misuse of funds of an elder person. For her arson crime she received two years in prison and for the elder funds abuse charge she was sentenced to not less than two nor more than 10 years. The sentences were suspended and she must pay almost $14,000 in restitution and serve three years on supervised probation. However, there is currently a petition to revoke her probation that alleged possession of illegal drugs.

The defense attorney said Haught cited her pregnancy as the reason for the suggested sentence. “She lost any special treatment for her pregnancy when she gave birth,” argued Hollingsworth.

Haught countered that every case has different circumstances and plea agreements are offered for a variety of reasons. In the Nottingham case there was a dispute with the origin of the fire and other considerations, not just pregnancy.

“His lack or apparent lack of consideration is evident in his lack of appearance,” said Haught, claiming it says “‘I don’t care’, apathy, or perhaps even disdain for the process.”

Further, in March 2005 Poulton allegedly committed a third-offense driving under the influence of alcohol in Indiana. He left that state while on probation so he could attend to family matters, including a death. “He just never returned,” noted Hollingsworth.

Before Madden handed down his sentence, he gave Poulton a chance to speak. “I apologize to anyone I’ve hurt in this situation. I apologize to the court,” he said.

“One of the most difficult tasks a judge has is sentencing,” Madden told the court Friday. He considers three broad aspects when making his decision: rehabilitation, term, and punishment.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Mr. Poulton is a troubled individual,” said Madden. However, he continued that a large percent of people in penal institutions are troubled. That is partly why judges placed them there.

“I don’t believe probation is appropriate in this case,” said Madden just before sentencing Poulton five years with credit for time served. He also ordered him to pay the costs of prosecution including restitution of $196,761.33 to Westfield Insurance Company.

Poulton was taken to the Northern Regional Jail to be delivered to the Commissioner of Corrections.