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Slaying suspects life a spiral downward
Poland apologized to family for descent into drugs, crime
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Donnie Poland had some things to get off his chest when he wrote a letter to a Dawsonville newspaper in 2003.

Poland, who had just pleaded guilty to a string of burglaries and was serving out a four-year sentence, opened his letter to the Dawson Community News by calling it a "cry out to your loved ones who are in trouble with personal problems and drugs."

He wrote that bonding them out of jail and "other quick fixes" are not the solution. He called jail "a place where mind, soul and body can become one again."

"Do not send them back to the streets to make further mistakes that may take away years from their life, or worse, their life period," Poland wrote.

Five years later, Poland, 41, is back in jail, charged with the murder of a 69-year-old West Hall retiree who investigators believe may have interrupted Poland during a burglary.

Gene Baggett was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in the bedroom floor of his Monroe Circle home by his wife on the afternoon of May 1. Poland was arrested two days later, after he allegedly went on a spending spree with the victim's stolen credit cards.

But Poland did not always live the lifestyle of a common criminal, public records show. He owned his own construction business, lived in an upscale mountain home, had a boat, cars and two thoroughbred horses.

Somehow, he lost it all, according to public records. By the time he was arrested a week ago following a high-speed chase in Gwinnett County, he was living out of his truck.

Poland, the son of a successful construction company owner, lived in the Eagle Ridge subdivision about 11 miles east of Dawsonville at least since 2000, when his first wife, Vicky Lynn Poland, filed a request for a temporary protective order against him after he allegedly threatened to kill her while drunk.

The four-bedroom, three-bath, country ranch-style home sits on three fenced acres among hardwoods and rolling pasture with a view of the Northeast Georgia mountains, and is currently listed for sale at a price of $389,000.

At the time he married his second wife, Kristian Ann Poland, in 2001, Poland owned a 1971 Chevelle SS, a 1997 Jovelia bass boat, a 1994 Chevy Blazer, a 2000 Ford truck, a Tennessee walking horse and a bay mare thoroughbred quarterhorse, divorce records show. Poland had a prenuptial agreement protecting his assets when he married his second wife, according to court records.

At one time, he operated a company known as D&K Drywall and Construction. In October of 2002, he was accused of writing nearly $5,000 in bad checks on the company's account to a Dawsonville equipment rental company, according to court records.

Poland got into a long string of problems with the law in 2002, beginning when his second wife made two domestic violence complaints against him. In January he was accused of choking her, leaving red marks on her neck, and ripping a phone cord out of the wall when she tried to call 911. In February he was accused of throwing a shoe at her, hitting her in the mouth and causing her to bleed.

In April, a department of agriculture agent investigated Poland's mistreatment of the horses, which were underfed, according to warrants. One horse had an open facial wound from an excessively tight halter, the warrant alleges. When Poland learned an agent was coming to check the horses, he moved them to another location, according to warrants.

Poland was also accused of abandoning a Rottweiler puppy with a lacerated paw in the driveway of a neighbor's home.

In November, Poland bailed out on a $133 taxi cab fare at Amicalola Church Road, according to warrants.

The most serious charges, however, involved a string of burglaries in mid-November 2002, when he broke into six homes and stole guns, electronics, jewelry, checks and vehicles, including a vintage Corvette. He pleaded guilty to the burglaries in January 2003 and received a four-year prison sentence with 16 years of probation upon release, in a plea deal negotiated by prosecutors with then-district attorney Jason Deal's office.

Deal is now a superior court judge in the circuit where Poland faces the murder charge. In fact, three of the circuit's four full-time superior court judges have had some contact with Poland. Andrew Fuller sent him to prison for four years, and Kathlene Gosselin presided over his second divorce.

Gosselin granted a final decree in Poland's divorce from Kristian Ann Poland in February 2003, less than a month after his guilty plea in the burglaries.

Gosselin wrote that of the cars, boat, horses and other assets once belonging to Poland, "it appears that the majority if not all the items ... have been sold, repossessed, lost or disposed of."

In November 2006 Poland was released from prison after serving his full four-year sentence. Less than a year later, Fuller sent him back to jail for technical violations of his probation. Poland consumed alcohol, failed to attend anger management classes and failed to meet with his probation officer in September 2007, court records show. He was released from jail in December, having served 90 days of a six-month sentence under an arrangement at the Dawson County Detention Center that awards "2-for-1" for good behavior.

In March, Poland purchased a 2007 Ford truck. Sometime in recent months, authorities say, Poland returned to burglarizing homes. Sheriff's officials have not said what items they have recovered, but have linked him to break-ins prior to the May 1 burglary at Baggett's lakefront home near Duckett Mill Park.

When Poland was arrested two days later after crashing his truck and fleeing on foot, he was found in possession of cocaine residue, according to arrest warrants. Two other men arrested in the case are accused of possessing items purchased with Baggett's credit cards or using the credit cards themselves.

Poland remains in the Hall County jail without bond. Efforts to reach his ex-wives, family members and others who know him were unsuccessful.

Poland closed his 2003 letter to the Dawson Community News by apologizing to his family and friends.
Prior to the apology, he wrote of those who are in jail, "with time to think and no where to run, they will face their problems and mistakes."

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