A thirteen member jury – twelve jurors and one alternate – have been selected from the morning pool of jurors called for the State vs. Dharminder Sen.
Sen, who recently turned 17 years old, is charged as one of three defendants in the shooting death of Robert Ernst on August 26, 2009. he is being charged on three counts: Count 1 - First Degree Murder; Count 2 - Aggravated Burglary; and Count 3 - Conspiracy to Commit Aggravated Burglary. Dennis Poitra, Jr. was found guilty in early September; Wyatt Bear Cloud will go before Judge John Fenn on November 30th on a Motion to Remove a Guilty Plea.
Monday morning in 4th Judicial District Court, a 44-person jury pool was seated by 8:45. Shortly thereafter, Sen, along with his attorney Tim Cotton of Casper and the investigator for the State Public Defender's Office, Andy Fraser, entered the courtroom. Unlike his normal attire of an orange jailhouse jumpsuit, Sen was dressed in a crisp light green dress shirt, a tie, dark dress slacks and new white tennis shoes. Also unlike past hearings, the Defense table is set up nearest the jury box.
Lead Prosecutor for the State, Matt Redle, will be assisted by Deputy County Attorney Christopher LaRosa and Department of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Chad Quarterman.
At 9 o'clock sharp, Judge John Fenn entered the courtroom and greeted the jury pool, followed by an explanation of the morning's proceedings. Because the State has the entire burden to prove the case, Redle posed his questions to the jury pool first. Redle told the group that his side “recognizes the burden we are asking of you, both in terms of the time you will be spending here and the weight of the decision you will make." Redle went on to say that the defendant just turned 17 and has been charged with the most serious offense in the State of Wyoming. Redle told the jury that “he [Sen] deserves your best impartial effort; the family of Bob Ernst deserves your best impartial effort; and the State of Wyoming deserves it.”
For the next hour and a half, Redle posed questions regarding the jury pool's possible knowledge about the crime; relation, if any, to Bob Ernst or to his family; knowledge of the list of witnesses, law enforcement officers, Sen, Counsel, etc. When asked how many had been following the case since the crime occurred in August, 2009, surprisingly there were between fifteen and twenty who said they had not.
Court recessed for a 20-minute break before Cotton began his questioning. His focus was on the need of the potential jurors to be both fair and impartial, stressing there is a distinct difference between the two. He also told the gathering that as “Dharminder sits here, he is presumed innocent, and you will hear evidence that may make you get off track of that presumption of innocence prior to the trial's end.” When asked if they could refrain from making a decision until hearing all the evidence, all in the pool said they could.
Cotton told the group that Sen has entered two pleas: “Not Guilty” and “Not Guilty by Reason of Mental Illness.” He asked the pool if anyone has an issue with that kind of plea; about three or so indicated they did. He also asked if anyone would find it offensive if Sen decided against or if Cotton chose not to have Sen testify; again a handful of the group did. And lastly, before closing his questioning, he told them that “Mr. Redle has repeatedly referred to Dharminder as ‘the defendant, the defendant... I would like to ask that given his age, that he has a name. When his mother speaks to him, she calls him Dharminder, not ‘the defendant.'”
Court then recessed until just after 1 o'clock, when Judge Fenn announced that a jury had been selected from the morning group. It consists of four men and nine women. The identity of the alternate will not be known until the jury goes into deliberation.
Opening arguments and first witnesses were heard Monday afternoon. The trial is scheduled to run through Friday, October 29th.
A second group of potential jurors entered the courtroom before the lunch recess. Judge Fenn told them a jury had been selected and thanked them before releasing them from their duty.