Bear Cloud Jury Questionnaire Hearing

How to best choose a jury is at the forefront of the upcoming Ernst murder trials.
How to best choose a jury is at the forefront of the upcoming Ernst murder trials.

A “Hearing Regarding Juror Questionnaires” was held in 4th Judicial District Court Wednesday afternoon, specifically regarding the Wyatt Bear Cloud case. Bear Cloud, along with co-defendants Dennis Poitra, Jr. and Dharminder Sen, have been charged with the August 26th, 2009 shooting death of Sheridan businessman Robert Ernst.

Bear Cloud's attorney, Shelley Cundiff, told Judge John Fenn in Wednesday's hearing that she had three concerns in relation to why she would like to distribute a questionnaire to potential jurors. First, she said the document would help hasten the jury selection process, aiding in the time it would take to answer questions and rid biases. Secondly, she said that prejudicial answers during a Voir Dire jury selection process immediately prior to the trial could sway other members of the jury panel by contaminating with hearsay comments. And third, she is concerned that postings on the website have had adverse affects on public opinion about her client's involvement in the case.

For his part, County Attorney Matt Redle, prosecutor for the State, said that a questionnaire would not be more efficient, especially since several of the questions on the document are open-ended. He said that in his opinion, filling out the questionnaire would ask a tremendous commitment outside of the courtroom on the part of the jury pool before the trial even starts.

Redle stated that in past cases, the way Judge Fenn conducts the Voir Dire jury selection process has been very efficient, while still allowing the opportunity to find out if there are any prejudicial opinions, but also allowing the chance to “rehabilitate” a juror's thinking to be more impartial.

For the time being, Judge Fenn decided to decline the issuance of a jury questionnaire, but may or may not revisit the issue depending upon how jury selection goes in the first trial. Poitra's trial may be moved, which would make Bear Cloud's trial the first one, which is scheduled to begin September 13th. A “Motion to Suppress” hearing will be August 10th to determine what will and will not be allowed to enter as evidence.

100 people will be called for the jury pool, with fifty summoned at 9 am the day the trial begins, and the remaining, if necessary, summoned in the afternoon.

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