Poitra Trial: Crime Lab Testimony

The State Crime Lab in Cheyenne.
The State Crime Lab in Cheyenne.

After playing audio of Dennis Poitra, Jr.’s DCI confession, Special Agent Chad Quarterman with the Department of Criminal Investigation took the stand and testified that on August 26, 2009, he collected evidence, conducted interviews, and transported evidence to the DCI office to be kept until sent to the State Crime Lab in Cheyenne.
He also explained what a major case print consisted of – rather than a fingerprint card that contains prints from fingertips, a case print contains prints of one's palm, fingers, and sides and blades of hands. He said that case prints were taken of Poitra, Dharminder Sen and Wyatt Bear Cloud. He also confirmed the ages of the defendants at the time of the alleged crime as being 19, 15 and 16 respectively.

Next to testify was Erin Olsen, a Latent Fingerprint Examiner with the State Crime Lab. She told the Court that on August 26, 2009 she came to Sheridan, along with Mary Simons, and collected twenty-one pieces of evidence at the crime scene in the Ernst’s home. Those included a cigarette butt in the alley; the cut window screen; the three shell casings found in the hallway outside the master bedroom; Bob Ernst’s bloodstained white T-shirt; a floorboard housing a fired bullet taken from the master bedroom; various blood swab samples taken from the bedroom floor and door jamb, as well as from the kitchen and laundry room door jambs; items from the laundry room table; and various prints.

She was provided prints from law enforcement of Poitra, Sen and Bear Cloud. She found ridge detail of a set of prints on the gun, but not enough to compare to the three suspects.

Dr. Jennifer Malone, a Forensic Scientist in the Forensic Crime Unit of the State Crime Lab then testified. Dr. Malone is a Trace Evidence expert, and on the Ernst case, she examined gun shot residue primer analyses on the gun and then compared the results to the GSR kits taken on Poitra, Sen, Bear Cloud, Linda Ernst and the person of Robert Ernst.

Poitra’s results: no particles on his right hand consistent or unique to GSR on the gun; no particles on his left hand consistent or unique to GSR on the gun; and on his face, two particles that were consistent to the GSR, but not unique to it. Dr. Malone said that the origin could have come from another source.

Sen’s results: one particle on his right hand consistent or unique to GSR on the gun; no particles on his left hand consistent or unique to GSR on the gun; and on his face, no particles consistent or unique to GSR on the gun.

Bear Cloud’s results: no particles on his right hand consistent or unique to GSR on the gun; three particles consistent or unique to the GSR on the gun; and two particles on his face consistent or unique to the GSR on the gun.

Dr. Malone added that GSR evidence is not long-lasting, and can be easily transferred, lost or washed away.

Following Dr. Malone, Michelle Martin, a Forensic Scientist in the Biology Unit of the State Crime Lab testified. She has been trained and qualified to study Serology – bodily fluids, including blood, urine, saliva and semen – and is currently undergoing training to be qualified to study DNA. She obtained a swab from the trigger of the 9 mm handgun. The result was too weak to make a positive ID of who left it there; however, there was enough of the sample to move it along to the DNA Technician at the crime lab.

That person was Scott McWilliams, who, along with serving as DNA Tech in the Biology Unit, is also the Director for the Wyoming State CODIS, or Combined DNA Index System, also known as the National DNA Database System. In the Ernst case, McWilliams testified that he'd received oral swabs from Poitra, Sen, Bear Cloud, Linda Ernst, and Ann Ernst, and a blood stain swab taken from the person of Robert Ernst. He then compared the swab taken from the gun’s trigger and determined that there was a single source profile match – meaning that only one person’s DNA profile fit, and that person was Dhar Sen.

The final witness from the State Crime Lab was Stephen Norris, a DCI Section Supervisor with the Firearm Tool Mark Unit. Norris testified that he used a comparison microscope to look at two different bullets – the evidence bullet he'd been given and a test-fired bullet from the 9 mm gun. He tested the gun and magazine containing unfired cartridge cases – Winchester brand 9 mm caliber -- as well as the three shell casings found in the hallway. All were identified as having been fired from the gun found under the seat of Riley Larkins’truck. Norris also tested the bullet found in the bedroom floor and determined it, too, had been fired from the same gun.

And Norris said he conducted an ejection patterns analysis and found the results to be consistent to how the shell casings had landed in the hallway.

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