In 4th Judicial District Court Thursday afternoon, in somewhat of a surprise to those in the gallery, Dennis Poitra, Jr. took the stand, dressed in his jailhouse orange, handcuffed and in foot shackles. He had been convicted for his part in the Ernst shooting in September of this year.
Thursday morning, the jury heard Dharminder Sen say on his interrogation interview audio that it was Poitra, Jr's. idea to carry out the home burglaries. Sen had also said that Poitra, Jr. had threatened Sen, allegedly telling him that Riley Larkins would kill him if he didn't participate.
On the stand Thursday afternoon, prosecutor Matt Redle asked Poitra, Jr. who had planned the crime. Poitra, Jr. said that Sen had approached him in Kendrick Park on August 25th and asked if he wanted to join him in robbing someone. Poitra, Jr. told Redle he had responded by saying, “I'm down.” He also said that Sen had a gun, and the he himself did not have a gun and didn't have access to one. Redle asked him if he ever threatened Sen. Poitra, Jr. said, “No, sir.”
Poitra, Jr. then outlined the sequence of events, showing on the aerial map the series of houses on Huntington they'd approached to burgle. He told the Court that Sen initially had the gun, but at the second house, the Bennett's, Sen gave him the gun.
Poitra, Jr.'s testimony also differed from Sen's confession regarding how events transpired at the Ernst home. Sen had said that Poitra, Jr. gave the instructions, telling them where to go and what to do. Sen had said they went to the basement right away, and that he didn't know the Ernst's were in their bed upstairs. He also said that Poitra, Jr. had forced him to take the gun and had said, “Let's finish this.”
On the stand, Poitra, Jr. told Redle that while he did cut the screen, unlock the door and let Sen and Wyatt Bear Cloud into the house, they first explored various rooms of the first floor, going into the guest bedroom, then the laundry room and the kitchen. Unlike Sen's audio, Poitra, Jr. said he took the $30 from the purse in the laundry room before they went down to the basement.
In the basement, Poitra, Jr. said, they rifled through drawers and file cabinets, and then Sen asked for the gun. He said Sen was the one to say “We need to finish this.” Redle asked how they knew the Ernsts were in the room; Poitra, Jr. said they had seen them when they were first upstairs.
Poitra, Jr. said he followed Sen to the master bedroom, and heard Sen yell, “Get down, I'm gonna f***ing shoot you!” He said the bandanna covering his face had fallen down, so he stepped to the side of the door so he wouldn't be seen; he saw three flashes of light, he said, as Sen fired the gun.
On cross examination, Sen's lawyer, Tim Cotton, confirmed that Poitra, Jr. had been 19 and Sen was 15 at the time of the shooting. He said, “You were the adult here, you were the 'point man'... you've been bragging in jail that you're the trigger man.” Poitra, Jr. strongly said, “No, sir.” Cotton also asked Poitra, Jr. if he'd been on meth the day before. Poitra, Jr. said that no, but that he'd been on medication.
On re-direct, Redle asked Poitra, Jr. if he'd ever used meth. “No, sir.” He did, however, admit to using marijuana.
Redle's final question to Poitra, Jr. was, “Did you consider yourself the leader, or partners?” Poitra, Jr. replied, “Partners.”
The State rested.