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CHEYENNE (AP) — A second of the three teenagers involved in the 2009 home invasion slaying of a Sheridan businessman deserves a new sentencing hearing because of a recent shift in federal law, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
Dharminder Vir Sen told police he shot Robert Ernst, 79, after breaking into his home. Sen was 15 at the time of the shooting.
A district judge sentenced Sen to life in prison without parole plus an additional 40 to 50 years on convictions of aggravated burglary and conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary.
Wednesday’s court ruling upholds Sen’s convictions. But it says the district court must resentence him as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that outlawed mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers.
While it’s still possible for judges to sentence juveniles to life in prison, the U.S. Supreme Court said judges must have other options and consider factors such as the defendant’s maturity and emotional development.
The Wyoming Legislature this year rewrote the state law on juvenile life sentences to bring it into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling. Under the new law, which goes into effect in July, juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment will be eligible to be considered for parole after serving 25 years.
Lawyers for Sen and his co-defendant Wyatt Bear Cloud, who was 16 at the time of the shooting, asked the Wyoming Supreme Court to review their convictions last year following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The third defendant in Ernst’s killing, Dennis Poitra Jr., was 18 at the time, and his life sentence wasn’t affected by the ruling.
The Wyoming Supreme Court last year vacated Bear Cloud’s life sentence on similar grounds and ordered him to be resentenced.
Sheridan County Attorney Matt Redle said Wednesday he expects Sen and Bear Cloud to be resentenced this fall.
Redle said he had no comment on the court’s ruling on Sen’s case. “We’ll just do as the Supreme Court has instructed,” he said.
An attempt to reach Sen’s lawyer, Dianne Courselle, for comment was unsuccessful.
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