Bear Cloud: Motion to Suppress Hearing

Wyatt Bear Cloud entering the courthouse last summer after being arrested for alleged involvement of the murder of Robert Ernst on August 26, 2009.
Wyatt Bear Cloud entering the courthouse last summer after being arrested for alleged involvement of the murder of Robert Ernst on August 26, 2009.

A lengthy “Motion to Suppress” hearing, followed by a brief Pre-Trial Conference took place in 4th Judicial District Court Tuesday in the Wyatt Bear Cloud case. Bear Cloud's trial for his alleged part in the murder of Robert Ernst August 26, 2009 is currently scheduled to begin September 13th. Sheridan Media's Mary Jo Johnson with more.

Bear Cloud's counsel, Public Defender Shelley Cundiff, made the Motion to Suppress, stating that during two interrogations on the evening of August 26, 2009, Bear Cloud was not properly given his Miranda Rights – specifically on the right to have a lawyer present during questioning. She called two witnesses, Dr. Theresa Faulkner, a clinical psychologist, and Barbara Sellers, a Speech Pathologist with Sheridan County School District 1, to testify to the “Totality of Circumstances” of Bear Cloud's age, intelligence, ability to comprehend his rights and the language used. They also factored in his mental, emotional and social development. Cundiff argued that their findings indicated that Bear Cloud did not fully comprehend that he had the right to have an attorney present when questioned, and therefore should not have signed the waiver of those rights.

Attorney for the State, Sheridan County Attorney Matt Redle, argued that the evidence and witness testimony he would present would show that Bear Cloud did, indeed, understand his rights and intelligently considered and waived those rights. Redle told the court that making an “intelligent and knowing waiver” didn't prove Bear Cloud had made the “smartest decision,” but that he had understood that decision.

Each of Cundiff's witnesses had been given the opportunity to view the two videos of the police interviews when they had done Bear Cloud's evaluations. In court Tuesday, Redle showed the videos of each. The first, taken in an interview room at the Sheridan County Sheriff's Office, occurred at 5:37 pm on the 26th. Bear Cloud, who at that point had not yet been arrested, had willingly gone with Sheridan Police Sgt. Travis Koltiska after being questioned at a traffic stop and indicating that he had information about the break-in and murder at the Ernst home. The audio on that video was not quite clear – the S.O. had just installed a new system and were working out some “bugs” -- but viewers could see that Department of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Chad Quarterman came into the room, handed Bear Cloud a piece of paper, and heard the agent tell him that those were his rights and that he could stop at any time and be free to leave. While the agent said this, Bear Cloud was looking at the paper, and then signed it.

In the second video, taken in the Sheridan Police Department interview room at 8:15 that night, Bear Cloud had been taken into custody after the mother of one of his friends called police saying that Bear Cloud had just been at their home and was talking about more direct involvement in the crime. In this video, Agent Quarterman, along with Agent Matt Waldock, are seen – and clearly heard – questioning Bear Cloud. Before they do, Quarterman hands Bear Cloud a second piece of paper, saying “This is the same thing as before, explaining your rights. If you have any questions at any time, stop and ask.” Waldock then asks if it's clear, to which Bear Cloud responds, “It's fairly clear.”

After hearing from Redle's witnesses, Special Agent Quarterman and Sgt. Koltiska, Judge Fenn ruled that Cundiff's witness testimony had limited persuasion. He said that because the first interview was not a custody interview, Bear Cloud didn't even need to be issued Miranda Rights, and regarding the second interview, he did not see any evidence or suggestion of coercion. He also noted that Bear Cloud's relaxed and often cocky demeanor, along with significant knowledge of criminal conduct and its consequences, showed that Bear Cloud “knew and appreciated the trouble he was in and for what he had done.”

Fenn denied the motion, and the videos will be used as evidence in his trial.

On a related note – it was revealed in court Tuesday that Dennis Poitra's trial will begin as scheduled on Monday, August 30th.

With updates on the Robert Ernst murder case, I'm Mary Jo Johnson for news.

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