Prosecutors rest case against Montana homeowner accused of shooting student

Reuters News
|
Posted: Dec 12, 2014 5:04 PM

By Lori Grannis

MISSOULA, Montana (Reuters) - Montana prosecutors rested their case on Friday in the trial of a Montana homeowner accused of murdering a teenage German exchange student who had entered the man's garage in April, possibly searching for alcohol to drink.

Markus Kaarma, 30, a former U.S. Forest Service firefighter, has pleaded not guilty, and defense lawyers say he acted to protect his family when he shot 17-year-old Diren Dede of Hamburg shortly after midnight on April 27.

The case is expected to test Montana's version of a "Castle Doctrine" self-defense law, which allows deadly force if a person reasonably believes it necessary to guard against an assault.

Cross-examining the state’s final witness on Friday, defense attorney Lisa Kauffman said prosecutors' decision to charge Kaarma within eight hours of the shooting was too hasty, and that Missoula police detective Guy Baker had gathered too little evidence.

“Would you have charged an officer eight hours after a self-defense shooting?” Kauffman asked Baker during the cross-examination.

“If probable cause existed at that time, yes,” Baker responded.

Baker testified on Thursday about discrepancies he said were found in Kaarma’s version of events, versus those of Kaarma's girlfriend, Janelle Pflager, and Ecuadorian exchange student Robby Pazmino, who fled the scene when shots were fired.

The defense is expected to argue that Kaarma had a right to shoot an intruder based on 2009 changes in the language of the law that allows the use of deadly force to defend against a home invasion if a person inside reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent an assault.

Judge Ed McLean denied two motions by Kaarma’s defense team on Friday, including vacating the charge of deliberate homicide due to insufficient evidence.

On Thursday, Baker testified that evidence from the scene indicated Dede was wounded by a shotgun blast to the arm and moved from one side of the garage to the other, taking cover behind a Buick with hunting equipment on top.

Baker testified in the week-old trial that Kaarma could not have shot and struck Dede over that obstacle, and that he repositioned himself to deliver the fatal blast to Dede's head.

Authorities have said Dede was killed while 'garage hopping' in a possible search for alcohol.

Kaarma faces up to 100 years in prison if convicted.

(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Mohammad Zargham)