Poitra, sentenced for 2009 murder of Sheridan man, loses sentence reduction appeal

(Cheyenne, Wyo.) — Dennis A. Poitra, Jr., who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the Aug. 26, 2009, first degree murder of Sheridan resident Robert Ernst, has lost an appeal to change his sentence. Poitra had requested his life sentence without the possibility of parole be changed to a sentence of "to life as a matter of law," which could have allowed the Governor of the State of Wyoming to commute his sentence to a term of years, which might have in turn allowed him parole at some unknown future time. Today, the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the District Court's decision to deny the motion for sentence reduction. According to court documents, Poitra was convicted of felony first-degree murder, aggravated burglary and conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary for the part he played in the murder of Ernst in 2009. The murder and associated acts also led to the convictions of his codefendants, Wyatt Bear Cloud and Dharminder Vir Sen. Poitra had just turned 19 when the crimes were committed. Bear Cloud was 16, and Sen was 15. At some point, Poitra joined in a plan the two juveniles had conceived to commit home invasion robberies. Bear Cloud and Sen had broken into a pickup truck and stolen a 9 mm handgun, and the group somehow also collected a knife and a landscaping timber to be used as a club. They donned black bandanas and dark clothing to conceal their identities during the planned nighttime robberies. Poitra, carrying the handgun and a knife, cut a screen covering an open window at the Ernst home in the early hours of Aug. 26, 2009. He entered the dwelling and let Bear Cloud and Sen in through a door. The group found a little cash, and Sen evidently decided to scare the Ernsts into opening a safe on the premises in the hopes of finding more to steal. He took the gun from Poitra, and the two of them entered the Ernsts’ bedroom. Sen said something that woke Mr. Ernst, who told them to get out of his house. Sen then shot him three times, killing him. Poitra was tried and sentenced to life without possibility of parole on the felony first-degree murder conviction, and to 20-25 years for the crimes of conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary and aggravated burglary. The sentences are to run consecutively. *Feature photo: Wyoming State Supreme Court Building h/t Wikimedia /