Ernst triggerman eligible for parole in 35 years

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SHERIDAN —A man previously sentenced to serve a life term for the first degree murder of Sheridan man Robert Ernst  will be eligible for parole after 35 years. Dharminder Vir Sen was assigned a concurrent term of 20-25 years for a felony conspiracy charge. After his parole hearing 35 years from the beginning of his incarceration, Sen will begin serving an additional felony sentence of 20-25 years for aggravated burglary.

Wyoming’s 4th Judicial District Court Judge John Fenn announced the sentence at the conclusion of a day long re-sentencing hearing.

Sen’s case was sent back to Fenn after a U.S. Supreme Court decision set a new precedent regarding sentencing options for juvenile offenders. Sen was 15 when he committed the home invasion killing of Ernst in August of 2009. Sen was the triggerman who committed the murders with two other accomplices.

In accordance with new requirements for individualized sentencing of juvenile offenders, Fenn oversaw a day of testimony from witness for both prosecution and defense.

Friday’s edition of The Sheridan Press will feature a detailed account of witness testimony and legal proceedings and considerations discussed at the hearing.


Original story below:

SHERIDAN — The resentencing of Dharminder Vir Sen in Sheridan’s 4th Judicial District Court commenced this morning. Sen was the triggerman in a 2009 home invasion killing of Robert Ernst, a well-known Sheridan businessman.

Judge John Fenn presided over the morning’s proceedings, and indicated he might not choose to assign an immediate sentence from the bench, but rather issue a written decision or reconvene at a later time after all arguments have been considered.

The day’s proceedings opened with an impassioned statement from Bill Hines, the brother of Ernst’s widow. Hines said he feels the surviving victims of the murder have been sentenced to a life of misery and undue punishment. He asked Fenn to hand down the maximum possible sentence, and further requested the judge tell the state penitentiary warden to not allow Sen to have time off for good behavior.

Hines also asked Sen be place in permanent solitary confinement for the duration of his sentence.

“As a former correctional officer, I can tell you it’s for his own good,” Hines said, adding he appreciates the job the court has done so far in dealing with the aftermath of the murder.

Hine’s address at the beginning of the proceedings was a break from routine order of court proceedings, but was allowed by Fenn.

Prosecutor and Sheridan County Attorney Matt Redle submitted numerous written exhibits to the court detailing at least five documented behavioral incidents Sen has exhibited while in correctional custody.

Sen’s new sentencing hearing was postponed several months in order to provide ample time for the  hearing.

Sen’s  attorney is Patricia Bennett.

The first defense witness called to testify under oath was Dr.Charles Denison, a forensic pschologist based out of Laramie. Denison was contacted by Sen’s  attorney to provide pschological assessments in preparation for his resentencing.

Denison performed a battery of tests and said Sen was a more willing and active participant for his evaluation than he had been in the past. For instance, an IQ test conducted at the time of the murders estimated Sen’s IQ to be in the high 80s. After spending time with Sen, Denison suspected the IQ would be much higher. A new test revealed Sen’s IQ to be 122, which is well above average and is classified as superior.

To date, Sen has only completed ninth grade in terms of formal education.

During cross examination, Redle pointed out an offender with a higher level may have a greater implied culpability.

Denison said other tests also showed Sen did not show classic signs of antisocial personality disorder or other forms of psychopathy frequently associated with a high risk of recidivism.

Densison said though an array of indicators suggest Sen has the capacity to understand right from wrong, he still struggles with impulse control and has a history of static factors, including an unstable home life while growing up, that contribute to his behavior.

Denison said psychological tests for determination of personality disorders are generally most accurate when performed on a person  25 years old or older.

UPDATE: 1:00 p.m.

Redle’s cross examination of the defense’s expert witness centered on establishing an aknowledgment of Sen’s criminal history and categorization of his mental capacity.

Sen’s arrest recored began when he was 14 years old, when he was living in Nebraska growing up in what was categorized as a chaotic household. There, he accumulated two felony convictions as a minor for theft of a vehicle and evading police by not pulling over when signaled to do so. Redle also referred to another incident from Sen’s early childhood when he established a behavior of playing with fire.

Sen moved to Sheridan in October 2008. In January 2009, he arrested for unauthorized use of a vehicle and hit and run. He was arrested again in April  2009 for  shoplifting headphones from Walmart.

Sen has also accumulated a history of infractions during his approximate five years in prison. Redle highlighted two incidents captured via the prison’s video surveillance system that show Sen’s involvement in physical altercations with other inmates. In one incident, another inmate attacked Sen and he fought back. Sen was reprimanded by authorities for not walking away. In another incident, Sen attacked another inmate who was in the prison’s computer room. The other inmate tried to escape the attack, but Sen pulled him back in the room to continue the assault.

The discussion of past behavior was an attempt on Redle’s behalf to dislodge Denison’s original sentiments, which seemed to suggest Sen’s personality was not yet fixed and there was a possibility of rehabilitation.

Denison pointed out that Sen’s development will be continually impacted by living in prison.

The central question of Denison’s cross examination was whether Sen could be considered to have a sociopathic personality. Redle maintained that even if a formal diagnosis was not assigned, personality disorders are not required for people to commit crimes.

Redle pointed to Sen’s statements immediately preceding the murder in order to demonstrate that Sen’s use of violence is not best categorized solely as reactionary. When in the Ernsts’ basement, Sen told one of his accomplices to hand over the gun, and immediately before firing three shots at Ernst, Sen had said, “I’m going to kill you, old man.”

Denison agreed that along with the potential for deception during a forensic psychological evaluation, some work of personality categorization is discretionary.

“We have to be careful not to be Monday morning quarterbacks. The bottom line is this is a horrible, horrible thing that happened,” Denison said, adding the crime was needless.

The court dismissed for lunch at noon and will reconvene at 1:30 p.m.

The Sheridan Press will post updates regarding Sen’s hearing throughout the day.

By |January 16th, 2014|

About the Author:

Tracee Davis joined the staff at The Sheridan Press in July of 2013. She covers business, energy and public safety. Tracee grew up in Kemmerer and has lived in several locations both in the U.S. and overseas. Her journalism training stems from her military service.