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Special Assignment: Out Too Soon?

News 12 at 11 o'clock, May 20, 2010

THOMSON, Ga.---It was an unthinkable murder. A 15-year old guns down his family. A step-mother, father, and 6-year old sister killed in their own home. It's been 23 years since Thomson High School freshman Eric Poole murdered his family, but for family, friends, and investigators it feels like only yesterday.

Now Eric Poole is free, paroled after serving his time.

Family and friends knew something was wrong when Janice and Tony Poole never showed up to work that February morning and were alarmed when 6-year old Michelle was absent from school. But it wasn't until their bullet riddled bodies were found did all their lives change.

With it's light blue shutters, it looks like the outside of an average 1987 home, but inside lies a gruesome crime scene.

"This is something we cannot forget even though we would like to forget. And I don't like thinking about this case, I don't like reminding myself what I saw," says Toombs Circuit District Attorney Dennis Sanders.

"We get a call saying there's been a triple homicide, never crossed my mind it was a family. A mother, father and most of all a 6-year old child," says former GBI Agent and current Columbia County Investigator David Rush.

Investigators say 15-year old Thomson freshman Eric Poole first shot his step-mother Janice. Janice was shot twice asleep in her bed.

Then he turned to 6-year old Michelle. Eric shot her seven times in the hallway.

Then when his father Tony returned home from work, he opened fire on him, shooting him five times. His paper bag lunch fell next to him.

"It was shocking, devastating, bewildering," says Sanders.

"Why, you know? The baby. The mama and daddy are bad enough, but why kill her?" Asks family member Fred Windom.

Fred Windom and other family members knew the day would come when Eric would be paroled and released from prison, but they didn't imagine it so soon.

"Not in my lifetime anyway," says Windom.

Even though Eric pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, the maximum sentence at the time was two life sentences. Back then, a life sentence was only ten years. And he could paroled after serving only seven of them.

"This case and other cases like this one are what ultimately led to life without parole," says Sanders. "They need to take into consideration the current law is 30 plus 30."

Eric Poole, inmate 220128 was released this March. After serving just over 23 years.

"I never dreamed that he would only serve 20 years. Somehow that doesn't seem to be appropriate," says Rush.

News 12 requested Georgia Pardon's and Parole Board open Eric's file. Eric had had no disciplinary action since 1998 and completed numerous self help programs. He finished his GED behind bars, and worked at a transitional center before being released. We also found that there were no letters in support for his release.

"I was pretty much...shocked," describes Rush. "I doesn't seem fair for the victims or their family."

With technology changing over the years, no one ever signed up for the Department of Corrections to notify them of changes in Eric's incarceration. But even though the family wasn't notified, Pardons and Parole says the District Attorney must be.

"I didn't get anything. I was not notified by the pardons and parole board," says Sanders.

Neither was Sheriff Logan Marshall, a lead investigator two decades ago. "Normally before the person is released we'll normally get a sheet stating that on a particular date they will be released but we never received that," says McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall.

"I don't think they told anybody," adds Windom.

"I don't blame the family at all for being terribly upset and disgusted at the way it was handled," says Rush. "If that is the way things are done, it needs to be changed for good."

Growing up a man behind bars, many wonder if that boy who killed his family all those year ago has changed.

"Do you think after 23 years he could still be a danger?" Asks News 12's Katie Beasley.

"I'm not gonna say he can't be because I still have a lot of questions in this case. I know what I saw, and any one who would do that-- I don't want to be around. I've got to be honest with you," answers Sanders.

"If he did it 3 times, why not?" Says Windom.

"I hope he's changed. I hope he's turned his life around and can be a productive member of society now and they'll be another judgment day for him," adds Rush.

"I would be very uneasy if he was my next door neighbor," says Sanders.

The board says their job is to "Weigh punishment with rehabilitation and decide at what point enough is enough." This was Eric's third time up for parole. He was denied in 1995 and again in 2002.

At 38-years old, Eric is now living and working in East Point, Georgia. Under the conditions of his parole, Eric is on electronic monitoring, pays fees to victim's services, and must continue intervention and rehabilitation programs.

News 12 did try to contact Eric Poole. The Department of Corrections has an address, but no phone number listed. We've also tried to contact him through family members, but have not been successful.

He has never apologized to the victim's families, or expressed why he murdered his family.

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