Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
James William Tolbert appears in court Friday, where he pleaded guilty to killing Ann Poulson, a Deseret Morning News employee who had befriended him. Tolbert showed little emotion in court.

James William Tolbert will be returning to the place where he met Ann Poulson years ago when she offered him kindness as part of her church ministry — and he repaid it by strangling her to death.

Tolbert pleaded guilty to aggravated murder Friday and was immediately sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing Poulson in her Murray home on Oct. 6.

Tolbert, 42, accepted a plea bargain that would put him behind bars for the rest of his life and, in return, prosecutors asked the court to dismiss a charge of aggravated robbery.

Poulson, 68, met Tolbert when she and her husband, Bill, did church volunteer work at the prison. At the time, Tolbert was serving an 18-year stretch for strangling his wife, Janie Heller-Tolbert, in 1987. Ann Poulson, whose husband is in a care center because of health problems, continued to extend hospitality and friendship to Tolbert after he was paroled in 2006.

"The harming of an innocent victim cannot be lightly treated," said 2nd District Judge Thomas Kay.

Prosecutor Robert Stott later said resolving the case in this fashion would bring Poulson's family some closure and also would mean Tolbert will never have the opportunity to kill another woman again.

For Poulson's family, the plea and sentencing helps bring some closure in the death of a woman they remember for her decency, goodness and tireless service to others.

"We are relieved we don't have to have this drug through the courts for an indefinite period of time," Alan Collier, her son-in-law, said.

He said the family was continuing to work on healing, taking solace in the memory of the type of person she was.

"She lived a life of dignity and class," he said.

Jon Carling, one of Poulson's sons, recalled how nurturing his mother was to her three children, three stepchildren and 21 grandchildren, as well as many other family members and friends.

"We harbor no hatred, but we feel justice must be served," Carling said.

Dave and Dan Maxwell, Poulson's brothers, seemed amazed and angered that Tolbert could live with himself after having betrayed a woman who cared for the ex-con like he was her son.

Stepson Scott Poulson asked the judge to put Tolbert behind bars forever to make sure he could not kill again and leave a third family grieving.

A neighbor, Sharrin Miller, said others would look at someone like Tolbert and see only evil, but "Ann could see only promise and a second chance."

Tolbert, who appeared emotionless in court, provided a written statement intended for Poulson's family. Defense attorney Steven Shapiro said Tolbert did not want to make a public showing of his feelings, so the letter was not read in open court.

The case came to light after neighbors had not seen Poulson for a few days and she did not show up for her part-time job in the accounting department at the Deseret Morning News, which was out of character for the quiet, friendly woman known for her dependability.

Family members said Poulson was not naive and knew she was dealing with a convicted murderer, but she tried to see the good in others and was not afraid of Tolbert.

However, in the weeks leading up to her death, Poulson had expressed concerns to others about Tolbert. He had been fired from a job because of complaints from female employees that he had harassed them, according to court records. Tolbert also had been asking Poulson for money and even wanted to move into her house, but she said no.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com