MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Two teenagers testified Thursday that they had stolen items from the garage of a Montana man charged with killing a high school student in that very place weeks later, and one of the teens said that may have been one factor that led to the German exchange student's death.
Mykle Martin, 17, and Tristan Staber, 18, described how they went "garage hopping," or burglarizing garages, in search of alcohol and other things after dark and hit Markus Kaarma's house.
Kaarma is charged with baiting the shooting victim, Diren Dede, into sneaking into his garage early April 27, and killing him with four shotgun blasts after being alerted by a motion detector. He has pleaded innocent to deliberate homicide, citing fear of harm to his family and property after he had been burglarized twice before the shooting.
Martin and Staber have been convicted in the incident in which they stole a wallet, marijuana, alcohol and an iPhone from Kaarma's garage about a week before Dede was shot. Staber said he acted as lookout while Martin stole the items.
"I was the previous break-in," Martin said, his voice at times barely audible. "I'm the reason he (Kaarma) was waiting for another person."
Both teens said Kaarma and his partner made a call to Kaarma's iPhone. Staber said he heard Kaarma's partner Janelle Pflager make a threat; Martin said the couple didn't.
Their testimony came as prosecutors opened their case Thursday.
Deputy County Attorney Jennifer Clark said Kaarma gave no warning before firing in the darkened garage four times after tripping the motion sensor, and that Kaarma paused between the third and fourth shots.
"Neighbors heard the sequence of shots," Clark said. "They heard boom, boom, boom, pause, boom." She held the pump-action shotgun used in the slaying and simulated firing it.
Clark said Dede may have been crouching behind a car after the first shots were fired. "We'll be back to ask you to hold this man responsible for deliberately taking the life of Diren Dede," she said.
Days before the shooting, Kaarma had gone for a haircut at a Great Clips and three women from the shop testified Thursday that they heard Kaarma say his house had been burglarized twice and that he had been waiting up nights to shoot an intruder.
"I've been up three nights with a shotgun waiting to kill some kids," hair stylist Tanya Colby said when asked what Kaarma talked about during the hair cut. She said he later told her, "I'm not kidding, you're seriously going to see this on the news."
Colby also said Kaarma believed police weren't doing anything about the burglaries.
Defense attorney Paul Ryan said Montana law allows homeowners to protect their residences with deadly force when they believe they are going to be harmed.
Kaarma didn't know whether the person inside the garage was armed, Ryan said. He said Kaarma is a man who doesn't like to be around a lot of people, and he felt targeted and increasingly anxious for the safety Pflager and their infant son after the first burglaries.
Montana's "stand your ground" law makes it easier for people to avoid prosecution in a shooting if they felt an imminent danger, whether or not the person shot was armed. Dede, from the German city of Hamburg, was not carrying a weapon.
Dede's parents, Celal and Gulcin Dede, are attending the trial.
"We have lost a bit of our joy for life," Celal Dede said in a prepared statement to Germany's RTL Television. "We can no longer laugh, no longer be happy. A huge part of us was taken from our lives — a part that made our family very happy."