TV show dramatizes brutal case
Episode on Howland murder features prosecutor, sheriff
Two Trumbull County elected officials appeared before a worldwide audience to introduce one of the more gruesome Mahoning Valley murder cases during the last century.
Investigation Discovery TV channel’s “Deadly Women” series recently highlighted the case of convicted murderer Marie Poling, who had lived in Howland.
The commentaries of Prosecutor Dennis Watkins and Sheriff Paul Monroe were prominent in the 14-minute dramatized segment of “Deadly Women — To Have and to Harm.” The show debuted July 15 on the ID Channel, which appears on local Spectrum cable systems and can be streamed online at www.investigation discovery.com.
It is the fifth episode of the 14th season of the “Deadly Women” series, according to a publicist with the Discovery network.
Watkins said this isn’t the first time the Poling case has garnered media attention. He said a book, “The Road to Justice” has been written by a former Pennsylvania state trooper about the grisly details, and Watkins remembers going on the Oprah Winfrey Show with the sister of the murder victim, Richard Poling.
During the summer of 1988, area residents were captivated to read about the dismembered body of a Howland man found lying beside Interstate 79 in rural western Pennsylvania. The grisly discovery eventually led to Richard Poling’s wife Marie going on trial for the murder. She ultimately was sentenced to 20-years-to-life in the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.
Watkins tried the case and has written letters to the parole board in an effort to keep Poling incarcerated. Her next parole eligibility is in October 2022 and in the television show, Watkins gets a head start telling about Poling’s penchant for violence.
Watkins said he spent a day in March 2020 with the producers of the TV show, who were from Australia. He recalled the details about bringing Poling to justice.
“It was well done and obviously the storytelling took some liberties with a few inaccuracies,” Watkins said about the TV docudrama. “But they took what we said and crafted a re-enactment. Personally, I don’t like to sensationalize the murder of any human being.”
The segment shows exterior shots of downtown Warren and begins with a dramatic depiction of a happy Poling family with the couple planning for a child.
During an interview with Monroe, who helped investigate the crime when he was with Howland police, the sheriff said outside the home, Poling was not the “homebody you’d expect.”
In the docudrama, Poling is shown using a pillow to muffle the sound of the .38-caliber gunshot as she kills her husband, a steelworker, as he slept on the couch. Then she sought help in getting rid of the body.
In the television segment, Monroe tells about the woman “guiding her younger illicit lover Rafael Garcia Jr. through their relationship and the plot against Richard Poling.”
“He followed her lead. He did whatever she told him,” Monroe said of Garcia.
Watkins noted a few details about the case that did not get into the Discovery Channel production. He said a videotaped interview with Garcia broke open the case and led to the successful prosecution of Poling.
“He came into my office (before going before the grand jury) and asked a hypothetical question about someone who helped a murderer get rid of the body not being charged with murder,” Watkins said.
After that session, Watkins said he set up Garcia with two Howland detectives: the young future sheriff and Sgt. Jim Martin.
During the videotaped confession, Garcia told the detectives Poling wanted him to use a chainsaw to remove her husband’s head.
“I said, ‘No, that would be too much blood,” Garcia said on the videotape. “She asked if I had any ideas, and I said I watched the movie ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ and said: ‘What about an ax?'”
On the video, Garcia told detectives Poling had thought about killing her husband for months, saying she considered hiring a hit man locally and in New York, testing battery acid on chicken legs and then trying to buy a gun with a silencer.
“Marie talked about killing him, but I didn’t think she ever would do it.”
Garcia said she eventually shot Richard with his own gun and she had called Garcia on the morning of Jan. 8, 1988, to say that she did it.
Garcia said Marie told him her husband had been abusing her since the previous summer.
“She had me believing every word she said,” Garcia had told detectives.
Watkins said the videotape still is used today to train young police officers in interrogation tactics.
“They (detectives) did a textbook interview, the demeanor and respect they showed to the man … making sure Garcia understood his rights, they asked no leading questions. That video shows it wasn’t about the police officers, it was about the crime. And Garcia responded by bearing his soul with the truth,” Watkins said.
BATTERED WOMAN DEFENSE
Once she admitted to being the shooter, Poling tried a “battered woman” defense. But Watkins said there was no evidence of any abuse.
“She used a pillow to muffle the sound of the shot. That is not something a battered woman does,” he said.
In the docudrama, Watkins describes Poling’s attitude more succinctly: “Damn the children, damn everybody else. I’ll do what I want,'” Watkins said.
The TV story gets graphic at times, as the producers go through the woman’s devious plot right to graphic scenes of Garcia swinging the ax. Garcia, who secured the tool from a rental business, eventually was convicted of abuse of a corpse, obstruction of justice and aggravated burglary and sentenced to five to 25 years in prison. He served 13 years in prison before being released in 2001.
An issue not brought up in the docudrama dealt with a key piece of evidence Watkins credited Howland police with obtaining.
“The gun was never recovered, but Richard was shot on the couch, so we had to get that piece of furniture,” Watkins said.
Testimony from a family friend showed Poling had taken the couch to a southwest side Warren home and dropped it off in a front yard during a rain storm.
“We were able to get blood samples and lead particles from that couch. With them, we were able to tie it to our case against Poling,” Watkins said.
Watkins credited the forensic work, especially by then-coroner investigator Howard Adelman, who determined Richard Poling died of a gunshot wound after the Allegheny County coroner in Pennsylvania had ruled death by decapitation.
“I remember having to get an order to exhume the body from Kerr Cemetery in Weathersfield so that we could match up the head and the torso,” Watkins said.
The woman’s plot unraveled, Watkins surmised, mainly because of her narcissistic personality.
“When you have a daily celebration of yourself — which includes sexual adventures and the use of drugs and alcohol — bad things tend to happen and they will continue,” he said.
Garcia and another co-worker, Carleen Robinson, who was involved in the plot, eventually testified against Poling.
Poling, now 62, was convicted by a jury of one count of aggravated murder and one count of abuse of a corpse. Robinson also served some prison time after being convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Watkins said he already is preparing to argue against Poling in her upcoming parole hearing. “I have a few tricks up my sleeves,” Watkins said.