US man convicted in German student's death

2014-12-18 10:25
Markus Kaarma. (YouTube)

Markus Kaarma. (YouTube)

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Missoula - A man who shot and killed a German exchange student caught trespassing in his garage was convicted of deliberate homicide Wednesday in a case that attracted attention as a test of "stand your ground" laws in the US that govern the use of deadly force against attackers.

Cheers erupted in the packed courtroom when the verdict was read in the case against Markus Kaarma, aged 30. The case generated outcry in Germany, where a Hamburg prosecutor said this week his office was conducting its own investigation.

Kaarma shot 17-year-old high school student Diren Dede in the early hours of 27 April after being alerted to an intruder by motion sensors. Witnesses testified Kaarma fired four shotgun blasts at Dede, who was unarmed.

The teen's parents were in the courtroom and hugged and cried at the outcome, while others applauded.

"It is very good," said Dede's father, Celal Dede, with tears in his eyes. "Long live justice".

Kaarma remained stoic as he was taken into custody at the end of the hearing. He faces a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced 11 February. His lawyers plan to appeal.

At a hearing Thursday, Dede's parents will give statements to the judge to consider at sentencing. Prosecutors asked for the hearing so Celal and Gulcin Dede won't have to return to Montana in February.

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.

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 US 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."

Montana's law was amended in 2009 to state that a person who is threatened with physical harm has no duty to retreat or summon law enforcement assistance prior to using force.

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. 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."

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 on 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.

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.

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