It took the jury just under three hours to render three guilty verdicts in the State vs. Dennis Poitra, Jr. case in 4th Judicial District Court Thursday evening.
At 2 o'clock, the jury convened to hear instructions from Judge John Fenn. Among the instructions, he explained the three counts and the subtexts of each.
For Count 1 – Felony Murder in the 1st Degree, in order to find Poitra, Jr. Guilty, they would need to agree that on or about August 26th, 2009, in Sheridan County, the defendant, Dennis Poitra, Jr. did kill Robert Ernst while in the commission of a burglary. While Poitra himself did not pull the trigger, Judge Fenn clarified that the law states that if two or more persons are equally engaged in the act of burglary and a person is killed, then all parties are equally responsible for the murder.
For Count 2 – Conspiracy to Commit Aggravated Burglary, in order to find Poitra, Jr. Guilty, they would need to agree that on or about August 26th, 2009 in Sheridan County, the defendant, Dennis Poitra, Jr. entered into an agreement with one or more persons, and to arm themselves with the intent to commit burglary and then went forth with said plan.
Within the context of this count, the defendant had to be found guilty of one or more of the following overt acts: that one or more of the perpetrators did arm themselves with a firearm; that one or more of the perpetrators did arm themselves with a landscaping timber; that one or more of the perpetrators did obtain a flashlight; and that one or more of the perpetrators obtained a knife to be used to cut window and door screens, thereby providing access to a house.
For Count 3 – Aggravated Burglary, in order to find Poitra, Jr. Guilty, the jury would have to agree that on or about August 26th, 2009 in Sheridan County, the defendant, Dennis Poitra, Jr., entered an occupied structure without authorization to do so, with the intent to commit burglary, armed with a deadly weapon.
Judge Fenn defined “aggravated” as using an item in a way that is outside of its intended purpose with the intent of harming another person.
Judge Fenn then told the jury that in order to render a Not Guilty verdict on any of the three counts, they would need to find that reasonable doubt exists, and that in Dennis Poitra, Jr.'s case, the reasonable doubt would be because of chemical intoxication causing the defendant to not know what he was doing at the time the crimes were committed.
The jury went into deliberations at about 3:15 pm. Approximately two hours later, the jury made a request to listen once more to Poitra, Jr.'s audio confession he made to DCI agents Williams and McDonald. Counsel, family members of Robert Ernst, friends of Poitra, Jr.'s and others were present to listen, finishing the audio at approximately 5:50. They reached a verdict shortly thereafter, and Dennis Poitra, Jr. stood before Judge Fenn as Clerk of District Court Nicki Arney read the verdict for each count. She also indicated that the jurors marked all four overt acts within Count 2. A poll was taken of each juror at the request of Defense Attorney Erin Wardell, with all twelve jurors indicating that that was their “true and honest verdict.”
Judge Fenn told Dennis Poitra, Jr. that a pre-sentence investigation would take place, after which a sentencing date would be set. Meantime, his bond has been revoked and he was remanded back into the custody of the Sheridan County Sheriff and transported to the Sheridan County Detention Center.
Wyatt Bear Cloud is currently scheduled as the next trial in the Ernst Murder case. As of now, jury selection is set for the morning of Monday, September 13th.