As was heard on Dennis Poitra, Jr.'s DCI confession audio, he had told agents that he, Dharminder Sen and Wyatt Bear Cloud had planned to break into houses in the area and rob them. During Wednesday's testimony, the State called several witnesses to the stand who lived in houses on Huntington Street, just off Thurmond near the Ernst residence.
First to take the stand was Mary Kay Van Haele, a property manager with ERA Carroll Realty. She manages the property at 583 and 575 Huntington, and on August 27, 2009, was contacted by law enforcement officers regarding that property. An officer accompanied her to the site and asked her to check the exterior and interior of the building at 575 Huntington. The house was being leased to a woman who had just started to move in; boxes were in the front room, but otherwise the house was vacant. Outside, however, she saw that a screen in one of the basement windows had been cut.
Following Ms. Van Haele was Josie Bennett, who lives at 541 Huntington, next to the 575 address. She testified that on the night of August 25th, at around 11:30, she heard her son returning home – she heard him talking to the dog who'd gone out to greet him, and he hollered, “I'm home,” before heading downstairs to watch television. Ms. Bennett then said that several minutes later, as she still lay awake in bed, she heard the back screen door clicking shut. The dog “went nuts” she said, barking like she's never heard it bark before, until her son came upstairs and calmed it down. She said that she didn't get out of bed; her son explored the house but didn’t see anything or anyone out of the ordinary.
After her came Cathy Daniello, who resides at 375 Huntington. She told the Court that on the morning of August 26th, after she'd gotten up for the day, she noticed that the two gates leading into her backyard were open. She said that her house is equipped with motion-sensor lights.
After the lunch break, Sheridan County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Hamilton took the stand and told the Court the details about his and Deputy Steve Matheson's arrest and transport of Dhar Sen on Big Goose Road, and arrest and transport of Poitra in Dayton. He said that after DCI agents interviewed Poitra at the Sheriff's Office, at about 8 pm on August 26th, he agreed to accompany Hamilton, Matheson and agents around to the various places they'd tried to rob.
Starting with 575 Huntington, Poitra pointed out the back of the house and said he'd gone to the window, removed the screen with a knife, but couldn't get the window open. He jumped down into a window well and cut the screen, but looked in and saw the place was vacant, so they left. Deputy Hamilton said that he and Matheson saw the split and cut screens on one side of the house.
Next they went to 541 Huntington. Hamilton clarified from what was stated on the confession audio that it was at this house the night before that Poitra had taken possession of the 9 mm handgun. He showed Hamilton how he'd gone through the screen door and a regular door which entered into a small laundry room. He heard a sound that scared him and he ran, followed by Sen and Bear Cloud. Hamilton and Matheson contacted John and Josie Bennett, and asked them if anything unusual had happened there the night before.
From there, Poitra led them to an additional house that had not been referred to in previous testimony. This house belonged to a Mr. Chavez at 503 Huntington. Poitra told them that he had looked into a high window with a fan in it when a dog started barking. Hamilton and Matheson noted that there was indeed a high window with a fan, and when speaking with Mr. Chavez, saw the dog.
Then came 375 Huntington, Cathy Daniello's residence. Poitra led them there via the alley; Hamilton opened a gate in a chain link fence and then opened another gate. Deputy Hamilton said that as he went further onto the property, the motion sensor light came on. Poitra told the deputies the three had run out of the yard, across the alley, across an open field, and ended up in the Thurmond Avenue alley behind 1020 S. Thurmond, home of Robert and Linda Ernst.
On cross examination, attorney Erin Wardell confirmed with Deputy Hamilton that it was Poitra who was the first to tell the police what had happened; he'd been cooperative and tearful when arrested in Dayton; and had cooperated fully with the police, as evidenced in his taking them on a tour of the houses.
Following Deputy Hamilton's testimony, the State rested.