Court maintains sentence for man convicted in Ernst murder
Date posted: April 4, 2014
From staff reports
SHERIDAN — Judge John Fenn of 4th Judicial District Court denied a motion to reduce the sentence of Dennis Poitra Jr. on Thursday.
Poitra had been convicted of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary and aggravated burglary for the role he played in the 2009 death of Sheridan businessman Robert Ernst.
Poitra, who was 19 at the time of the crime, was originally sentenced to life without parole on the murder charge, 20-25 years for the conspiracy charge and 20-25 years for the aggravated burglary charge. The conspiracy charge will run concurrent to the murder charge and the burglary charge will run consecutive to that.
The other two teens involved in the murder have also appealed their sentences.
Since the murder, the Wyoming Legislature passed a law meant to conform with U.S. Supreme Court rulings on juvenile sentencing that allows youth sentenced to life imprisonment to be eligible for parole after serving 25 years.
In August of last year, Wyatt Bear Cloud was resentenced by Fenn. Bear Cloud was 16 at the time of the crime. The resentencing resulted in a life sentence that will allow him to be eligible for parole under the new law.
An additional 20-25 year sentence remained in place for a conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary charge, to be served concurrently to the murder sentence. Bear Cloud’s 20-25 year sentence for aggravated burglary also remained intact and is to be served consecutive to the other two charges.
But, Bear Cloud has appealed the resentencing in Wyoming Supreme Court, arguing that the sentence still violates the eighth amendment. Arguments filed also include that the identical sentence structure for accessory and principal actors in felony murder applied to juveniles is unfair.
Bear Cloud was not the triggerman in the 2009 crime.
The appeal also argues that the 4th Judicial District Court did not provide an individualized hearing and the 20-25 years for aggravated burglary is disproportionate and therefore unconstitutional.
Triggerman Dharminder Vir Sen was resentenced earlier this year under the new law as well, making him eligible for parole as well. Sen’s conspiracy prison term of 20-25 years will run concurrent to the murder sentence and a 20-25 year term for aggravated burglary will be served consecutive to those two charges.