Dec 17, 2014 7:44 PM
Guilty verdict in German exchange student's death
The Associated Press
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) A Montana man who shot and killed a German exchange student caught trespassing in his garage was convicted of deliberate homicide Wednesday despite arguing that a state "castle doctrine" law allowed him to use deadly force to protect his home and family.
Cheers erupted in the packed courtroom when the verdict in the case of Markus Kaarma, 30, was read. The parents of the victim, 17-year-old Diren Dede, hugged and cried.
"It is very good," Dede's father, Celal Dede, said with tears in his eyes. "Long live justice."
Kaarma was stoic as he was led from the courtroom. He faces a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 11. His lawyers said they plan to appeal but did not comment further after the hearing.
On Thursday, Diren Dede's parents will give statements to the judge to consider when determining Kaarma's punishment. Prosecutors asked for the hearing so Celal and Gulcin Dede wouldn't have to return to Missoula for his sentencing.
Kaarma shot Dede in the early hours of April 27 after being alerted to an intruder by motion sensors. Witnesses testified Kaarma fired four shotgun blasts at Dede, who was unarmed.
Kaarma's attorneys argued at trial that he feared for his life, didn't know if the intruder was armed, and was on edge because his garage was burglarized at least once in the weeks before the shooting. They said Kaarma's actions were justifiable because he feared for his family's safety.
More than 30 U.S. states, including Montana, have laws expanding the right of people to use deadly force to protect their homes or themselves, some of them known as "stand your ground" laws. The self-defense principle is known as the "castle doctrine," a centuries-old premise that a person has the right to defend their home against attack. The name evokes the old saying, "my home is my castle."
Prosecutors argued Kaarma was intent on luring an intruder into his garage and then harming that person. That night, Kaarma left his garage door partially open with a purse inside. He fired four shotgun blasts, pausing between the third and fourth shots, witnesses said. Three witnesses testified they heard Kaarma say his house had been burglarized and he'd been waiting up nights to shoot an intruder.
University of Montana law professor Andrew King-Ries noted state law does allow homeowners to use deadly force to protect their property, but it requires them to act reasonably.
"What the jury's saying here is, you have a right to defend yourself, but this isn't reasonable," King-Ries said. "Lots of people have guns here, and lots of people feel very strongly that comes with a responsibility to handle your weapon appropriately."
The shooting generated outcry in Germany, where Hamburg prosecutor Carsten Rinio said this week his office was investigating the Dede case, as required under German law.
Julia Reinhardt, with the German consulate in San Francisco, noted the German government closely followed the proceedings.
"We are really grateful to everybody involved and particularly impressed by the outpouring of sympathy that Diren's parents experienced here in Missoula," she said Wednesday.
At trial, neighbors testified that Kaarma's girlfriend, Janelle Pflager, told them the couple planned to bait and catch a burglar themselves because they believed police weren't responding to area break-ins.
One of those neighbors, Terry Klise, called the verdict a "huge weight lifted."
"The man was a threat to our neighborhood," he said of Kaarma.
Dede's parents attended the entire trial, often leaving the crowded courtroom during emotional testimony. The Hamburg teen was studying at Missoula's Big Sky High School and was to leave the U.S. after the school term ended in just a few weeks.
Since Florida in 2005 became the first of several states to expand the castle doctrine's use outside the home, a flurry of cases has tested the boundaries of self-defense law.
Most famously, a Florida jury acquitted security guard George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman followed the teenager, contended the boy attacked him, and was acquitted of murder charges even though he was not at his home at the time of the shooting.
Associated Press writers David Rising in Berlin and Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.