Poitra Trial: Closing Arguments

Before the jury entered into their deliberations to determine the verdict for Dennis Poitra, Jr., lead counsel for the State and the Defense gave their closing arguments.

First up was Sheridan County Attorney Matt Redle, Prosecutor for the State. He detailed further Judge Fenn's instructions pertaining to the three counts, specifically the overt acts within Count 2 – Conspiracy to Commit Aggravated Burglary.

Redle reminded the jury that Poitra, Jr. agreed to commit a crime when saying, "I'm down" after Dharminder Sen asked him in Kendrick Park the afternoon of August 25th to join him in robbing houses.

At Wyatt Bear Cloud's, Poitra, Jr. armed himself with the landscaping timber to use either to scare or to strike someone, and later was, for a time, in possession of the 9 mm handgun, which Dhar Sen handed to him at the second Huntington house.

Sen and Bear Cloud obtained flashlights, which were used to illuminate the Ernsts – Linda Ernst had said the bright light, and hearing their voices, is what awakened her.

And Poitra, Jr. had the knife that Bear Cloud had obtained, using it to cut the screens of at least two homes, with the intent to gain entrance.

The concept of Intent was the theme of most of Redle's closing argument. In response to the Defense maintaining that Poitra, Jr.'s conduct should be excused because he was chemically intoxicated, Redle asked the jury to remember the defendant's words and actions showing that he was capable of forming intent.

Poitra, Jr. had testified Thursday morning that the purpose of their actions was to take money and keys so they could get out of town, language, Redle noted, of intent. When in the Ernst's basement, Redle said, Poitra Jr., Sen and Bear Cloud opened drawers to look for money and jewelry – again, statements of intent.

And referring to Count 1, Felony Murder in the First Degree, Redle said “the result is not going to be good; it is foreseeable, when someone has chosen to enter a home in the dead of night” armed with a weapon.

Redle ended his argument saying that the defendant's will was NOT mush, and he was well aware of what he was doing, and when he was doing it.

Defense attorney Erin Wardell began her closing argument stating, Dennis Poitra, Jr. was there in body, but not in mind.” She said he did not have intent. She reminded the jury of best friend Kendra Smith's testimony that Poitra, Jr. was not the Dennis she knew when she saw him in Kendrick Park the day before the crimes, saying he was acting crazy, restless.

Wardell said Kendra did not know that Poitra, Jr. had been given a 200 mg dose of Seroquel prior to being discharged from Memorial Hospital, where he had been the previous 30 hours after inflicting several cuts on his chest with a broken bottle.

Wardell referenced Dr. Trent Holmberg's testimony as “tying everything together” in that Poitra, Jr. had not been on any medication for four months, followed by a “respectable dose” of a drug known to potentially cause side effects consistent with Akithisia – an inability to stop moving or sit still.

She told the jury, “When Dennis had a weapon, no one was hurt; he just ran when scared off. He did the will of Dhar Sen that night, and as the State pointed out [earlier this week], he tended to do the will of others in order to fit in.”

Lastly, Wardell said, Dennis fully cooperated with law enforcement.

On rebuttal, Redle reminded the jury that Dr. Holmberg had not ever been in the presence of Poitra, Jr. at the time he was showing the extreme restless behavior. And he said that Dr. Holmberg had said that only 1 – 3% of those who take Seroquel develop Akithisia, and an even smaller number suffer extreme symptoms.

Finally, Redle concluded by referring to the great character of Kendra Smith, who loved Dennis Poitra, Jr. very much, but who, when faced with the realization that he was involved in the tragic death of Robert Ernst, did “the right thing” and gave that information to law enforcement.

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