At a Status Conference in 4th Judicial District Court Thursday morning, Dennis Poitra's attorney, Erin Wardell, made a motion to have Poitra undergo more mental health evaluation from a private mental health professional named Dr. Watt. Poitra is the adult member of the group of three teens who are accused of murdering Sheridan businessman Robert Ernst on August 26, 2009.
Wardell told Judge John Fenn that in preparing for trial, she learned that Poitra had been hospitalized in the Sheridan Memorial ER for mental health issues on August 24th, and released on the morning of August 25th, just several hours prior to the alleged incident.
Judge Fenn raised concern that protocol has been set through state statute for the state hospital to provide mental evaluation services. Fenn told Wardell that she was free to get private professionals for trial strategy, but not at jeopardy of statutory language.
Prosecutor for the State, Sheridan County Attorney Matt Redle, was very concerned about the motion, saying that Wardell has had since September to raise competency issues and his office has not heard anything.
Wardell countered that they have been waiting to meet with Dr. Watt and could not do so until just a few weeks ago. Revelation of Poitra's hospitalization near the date of the crime, and her personal lack of expertise in the mental health field, made her feel she would not be ready for a March trial.
Judge Fenn stayed the trial, speedy trial is now waived and it is unknown when it will be rescheduled. Meantime, council will set up another status hearing in 45 to 60 days.