By Lori Grannis
MISSOULA, Mont. (Reuters) - A Montana man accused of killing a teenage German exchange student last April had been planning with his girlfriend to lure back a burglar who previously robbed them, his neighbors told a court on Tuesday.
Markus Kaarma, a 30-year-old former U.S. Forest Service firefighter, is charged with deliberate homicide for firing a shotgun four times into his darkened garage in Missoula late on April 27, killing 17-year-old Diren Dede, a high school student from Hamburg.
Kaarma denies the charge, and defense lawyers say he acted to protect his family in a case expected to test Montana's so-called "Castle Doctrine" self-defense law, which allows deadly force against a home invasion if a person reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent an assault.
On Tuesday, neighbors testified that Kaarma's live-in girlfriend Janelle Pflager was angered by a theft of a wallet, cellphone, and Kaarma's marijuana pipe from the couple's garage 10 days before the murder. Some said Pflager told them they planned to lure back the burglar by leaving a purse as bait.
One neighbor, Robin Renquist, testified that she asked Pflager why any thief would return to the scene of a crime, to which he said Pflager replied: "Oh yeah, they'll be coming back because we are going to bait them."
Another couple who live nearby, Jessica and Zachary Bracey, testified that they heard gunshots shortly after midnight that night, saying there were three shots, a pause of three to five seconds, then a fourth gunshot.
Prosecutors accuse Kaarma of pausing as he heard Dede beg for his life, and then finished him off.
Police said Pflager originally told investigators she heard Dede shout: "No, no. No, please!" But on Friday, Pflager took the stand and recanted that statement.
The court earlier heard a fellow exchange student, Ecuadorean Robby Pazmino, detail the last moments of Dede's life as the pair walked the neighborhood.
Dede picked up a cat and stroked it as the pair talked about mountain lions in Montana, he said, then Dede entered Kaarma's garage. Pazmino said Dede entered the garage spontaneously, and failed to answer when he asked him what he was doing.
The teenager, who arrived in Missoula from Ecuador on Monday to testify, said he heard a voice say, "I see you there," and then gunshots.
Kaarma could face 10 to 100 years in prison if convicted.
(Reporting by Lori Grannis; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)