The State vs. Dennis Poitra, Jr. trial began at 10 o'clock this morning, with more people in the gallery than had been up to that point. Before bringing in the jury, Judge John Fenn said to Poitra that he'd been advised by the defense counsel that Poitra would like to testify. He explained his right to remain silent, and that if he chose to waive that right, he'd be subject to cross examination. After asking several times if Poitra understood, he asked Poitra what he wanted to do. Poitra replied, “I want to testify.”
Defense attorney Erin Wardell quietly questioned Poitra, who was dressed in a crisp white shirt and blue tie. He sat stoically the entire time he was on the witness stand. He told her that in August, 2009, he was living with various friends, moving from house to house. On August 24th, he'd called his best friend, Kendra Smith, from the roof of the downtown parking garage and said he wanted to commit suicide, and that he'd just cut himself numerous times on his chest with a broken bottle. Wardell asked him why he'd wanted to end his life, and he said, “I felt worthless, depressed, and sad about breaking up with my girlfriend.”
He went to Kendra's and showed her the cuts, but refused to let her clean him up. She told him to go to the hospital, and at first he refused, but then complied. Upon being admitted, he told hospital personnel that he “needed help.” They cleaned his wounds and had him speak with mental health professional Pam Christensen. After he spoke with her, he said he fell asleep. He was moved to a room that only had a bed in it, until they “figured something out” to help with his mindset and medication.
Later that day, still on the 24th, Poitra says he became upset that Christensen wouldn't allow him to go outside to smoke with his friends who'd come to visit him. He was given some medication and passed out. He told the Court he only remembered being given one medication.
On the morning of the 25th, he said, the doctor came in and said he shouldn't be there and gave him discharge papers. He confirmed the visit to the DFS office, and confirmed his being in an agitated state the entire day. He said that after he left DFS, he went to the house where Kendra lived, but she wasn't home. He skateboarded for awhile, then went to Kendrick Park to skateboard. He told Wardell that while at the park, he was feeling all kinds of different emotions – sadness, happiness, anger, anxiousness -- and that those feelings kind of scared him. He went skateboarding again, and then went back to the park, where he met up with Dharminder Sen. He asked Dhar if he wanted to “smoke some weed” with him and Dhar asked if he wanted to rob houses that night. Poitra said he told Dhar, “yes.” When Wardell asked him why he would agree to such a thing, he said, “I don't know. I just blurted it out.”
He went with Dhar so Dhar could get the 9 mm handgun; Poitra said he stayed in the back seat of Dhar's car, and was very fidgety. They then went to Wyatt Bear Cloud's garage and asked Wyatt if he wanted to join them that night. Dhar then took a nap and Wyatt and Jr. went back to the park to skateboard.
Poitra said that that night they got all their stuff together and then he testified to going to all of the Huntington houses where Dhar handed him the gun after the first failed attempt to gain entry. Wardell asked him “what were you thinking when he handed you the gun?" And Poitra said “I was confused; when I was scared off [from the second house] my body just ran.” He then confirmed testimony of how they got into the Ernst home, and that before they went to the basement they'd seen an older couple sleeping in their bed. In the Ernst's basement, Dhar told him to give him back the gun. He said that Dhar started up the stairs, saying “I've got to finish this.” He said he'd wondered what Dhar was thinking, and followed him upstairs.
Poitra said his black bandana started to slip off his face, so he stepped away from the bedroom doorway to adjust it so the couple couldn't see him, and said that he heard three shots and saw the flash of the gun firing. Poitra then said that the three ran out of the house back to the Bear Cloud's garage, where Poitra says he passed out.
He said he woke up later that morning, August 26th, feeling rested and calm. He said he remembers thinking “did that really just happen?” and then saw all the cops [around the Ernst's home] and thought “oh, no.” He said he tried to call Kendra and couldn't reach her. He said that he went to McDonald's to eat breakfast, then went back to Wyatt's.
He reached his father and spent the day at his house in Dayton thinking about turning himself in. He said he broke down and told his dad what had happened. They headed to Sheridan when stopped by the cops. When being questioned by DCI, Wardell asked why Poitra didn't give them information about his being in the hospital. He said, “they didn't ask.” Poitra said that it had been about four months since he'd been on any medication.
On cross examination, Matt Redle posed questions to confirm the testimony he'd just given. Regarding his suicide attempt, Redle asked if Poitra had needed stitches, to which Poitra responded, “no, they were superficial cuts.” Redle stated that in fact, Poitra had cut himself before, to which Poitra said, “yes, sir.”
Redle asked Poitra about when he was in the park with Dhar, and asked him “Isn't it true that when Dhar asked if you wanted to join him in robbing houses that night, you said, "'I'm down'", to which Poitra replied “I don't remember. I have a bad memory, to be honest with you, not about all things, just little details.” This seemed to puzzle Redle.
Redle then asked why they chose Wyatt's house, and Poitra said he didn't know. Poitra also told Redle that he hadn't spoken yet to Wyatt that day, so he didn't know if Dhar had already made plans for Wyatt to be a part of the robberies. He said that when he and Dhar went to Wyatt's garage later that afternoon and Dhar asked Wyatt to join them, Wyatt had told Dhar, “I'm down.” Redle jumped on that testimony, saying, “You remember Wyatt saying that phrase but not yourself saying it? Nonetheless, does that phrase mean, “I'm in?” to which Poitra said, “Yes.”
Redle asked Poitra why he told Wardell on direct witness that he didn't know why he was going to use the wooden timber, when on the confession audio, he'd clearly told police that he planned to use it to scare people, or to hit them rather than use the gun. Poitra said he didn't remember.
Poitra also told Redle that the reason they wanted to do the robberies was to steal money and car keys to get out of town. He told Redle that when he ran from the house on Huntington, he didn't choose to run, his body did.
Referring to the Ernst's, Redle asked who found the safe in the basement. Poitra replied, “Dhar did.” Redle asked, “That's the real reason, then, that Dhar wanted the gun, to go to the old man to get the combination, right?” Poitra said, “I don't remember. I only remember that he wanted the gun back.” Redle implied wondering why Poitra would give him the gun, knowing there were two people in the upstairs bedroom. He also reminded Poitra of the recording of his call to Kendra Smith saying, “'We could have gotten away with it [the robbery] if we'd have left them alone.'”
Redle asked Poitra why, if the restlessness and agitation that he said kind of scared him throughout that previous day was so bad, he hadn't called the hospital to tell them there was a problem. Poitra said he didn't know.
On the morning of August 26th, Redle said, “you woke up to Brandon Baglin knocking on the door, didn't you? And Brandon, you, Dhar and Wyatt went to McDonald's didn't you? And you bought breakfast for everyone with the money taken from Mrs. Ernst's purse, didn't you?” Poitra responded, “Yes.”
On redirect, Wardell asked Poitra why he'd wanted to get out of town, and he said he didn't know. She asked him how he feels about the crime today. Poitra responded, “I'm sad. A man that everyone loved in this community died. No one should have had their life taken.”
The defense rested. Jury instructions and closing arguments took place from 2 until just after 3. The jury is now in deliberations.