Last month, Judge Sullins from the 7th Judicial Court in Casper ruled that the two teenagers should be tried as adults for their involvement in the August 26, 2009 murder of Sheridan businessman Robert Ernst. A status hearing was held in 4th Judicial District Court Thursday morning on how trial preparations are coming on Dharminder Sen and Wyatt Bear Cloud. Sheridan Media's Mary Jo Johnson has the update.
Judge John Fenn held the hearing jointly with Bear Cloud and his attorney, Shelley Cundiff; Sen, and one of his attorneys, Traci Lacock, a Public Defender out of Casper; and prosecutor for the State, Sheridan County Attorney Matt Redle. Also present was Dennis Poitra's counsel, Erin Wardell.
Judge Fenn set the trial date for Bear Cloud for the week of September 13th through the 17th, with a pre-trial conference set for August 10th. Sen's trial is now scheduled for the week of October 25th through the 29th, with his pre-trial conference set for September 21st. Poitra's trial has been set for some time, scheduled for the final week in August. All counselors agreed that one week is sufficient time for each trial.
Judge Fenn brought forth the issue of whether or not jury questionnaires need to be written; Redle felt that since none of the cases are capital cases and that the death penalty will not be at issue with potential jurors, a questionnaire is not necessary. However, the defendants' counsel would like to put together a questionnaire – the judge has given them ten days to draft one up.
Judge Fenn also reminded counsel to review the Rule of Professional Conduct 3.6 regarding trial publicity so they know what they can and cannot legally say during the trials. Also, Judge Fenn made it clear, and all counselors agreed, that cameras will not be allowed in the courtroom.
Possible Change of Venue was addressed, but as Redle suggested to Judge Fenn, it might be difficult to determine the need for such a change until they see how easy or difficult it is to seat a jury for each case, especially as publicity on the first trial might potentially influence the two subsequent trials. Meantime, Judge Fenn told the Court, he has made informal inquiries with both Natrona County and the University of Wyoming's Law School dean – both have indicated they would have the available space should the venue need to be changed after all.
And Judge Fenn addressed the issue of the number of jurors needed to call in for each case. Clerk of District Court, Nicki Arney, said she plans to set aside 600 fresh names, knowing that a certain percentage will be exempt from serving. Redle felt that again, since none are capital cases, no more than 100 would be needed to fill a jury pool, at least for the first trial. Lacock and Cundiff suggested that they might request a pool of 140 to 150 potential jurors.
Lastly, Cundiff made a motion to request that Bear Cloud's bond be lowered or to allow a surety bond and place him into his dad's care. Judge Fenn denied the motion.
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