Judge denies killer’s request

Brandon Johnson

The man who killed his elderly landlord in Craig 20 years ago was denied a request for unconditional release by a judge Thursday in Steamboat Springs.

District Judge Michael O’Hara, citing concerns about public safety, rejected John Pogline’s request to lift the conditions of his 1996 release from the state mental hospital.

In 1985, Pogline, now 41, stabbed and strangled his 76-year-old landlord at her home on Barclay Street. The landlord, Rose Scott, died that night of a single stab wound to the heart.

Pogline, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. He said voices told him to kill Scott.

He has been on conditional release since 1996 and lives in Grand Junction.

The conditions of his release require Pogline to take drug tests and anti-psychotic medication. He sees a therapist at least every two weeks but is free to do as he pleases.

O’Hara’s decision means Pogline will continue to be tested for drugs and required to see a therapist.

The heinousness of Pogline’s crime and expert testimony that if he stopped taking his medication he would be a danger to society led O’Hara to his decision, he said.

“I cannot conclude that you are OK,” O’Hara told Pogline.

Pogline sat still and nodded slowly as the judge made the decision.

Immediately after O’Hara’s decision, Sheryl Uhlmann, the public defender representing Pogline, said she planned to appeal.

During the 8-hour hearing, Uhlmann argued that Pogline’s success since being released from the hospital made him an ideal candidate for unconditional release. Since his release, Pogline graduated from college and hasn’t tested positive for illegal drugs or negative for his prescription drugs.

“What more can you do? If not him, who?” Uhlmann asked during her closing arguments.

Uhlmann presented just one witness during the hearing, Karen Fukutaki.

Fukutaki runs a private forensic psychiatry practice in Denver and has testified as a psychiatry expert more than 150 times.

She met with Pogline in August for more than an hour at the request of state mental health officials.

Fukutaki testified Thursday that Pogline should be granted an unconditional release.

Although the conditional release gives Pogline the freedom to live on his own, have a job and attend school, the defense argued that it was still restrictive.

Pogline wanted a release, Fukutaki said, because he wanted to continue to do good things — such as attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and take his medication — of his own volition. He no longer wants to be forced to, she said.

If the judge were to grant Pogline a release, he likely would keep taking his medication, Fukutaki said.

“I was impressed by his level of commitment to maintaining psychiatric stability,” she said.

Clozoril, the anti-psychotic medication Pogline takes twice daily, keeps the voices that told him to kill Scott at bay, Fukutaki said.

Pogline told her he planned to continue taking his medication even if he weren’t required by law, Fukutaki said.

Pogline heard voices in the late 1990s, but Fukutaki said those incidents were the result of a change in the dosage of his medication.

The prosecution argued that there would be no guarantee that Pogline would continue taking medication if he were granted unconditional release.

“Mr. Pogline’s particular disorder could manifest itself in the same way it did in 1985 two years from now,” prosecutor Kerry St. James said during his closing argument.

The defense brought five witnesses, including Kurt Halliday, the forensic psychiatry coordinator of Colorado West Mental Health, the organization that oversees Pogline’s conditional release.

Halliday said that without the threat of being sent back to the state mental hospital, Pogline wouldn’t have very much motivation to stay on his medication.

“He could stop it today if he wished and would pose a risk to the community,” Halliday said.

Pogline declined to comment about the hearing.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.