Markus Kaarma

This was another case that I learned about watching one of the news television shows, either Dateline or 48 Hours more than likely.  I spent a little more time researching this case than I normally do due to the fact that I was specifically looking for something that I thought I had seen on the show referred to on the program.

This is one of the many high profile cases that has attempted the Stand Your Ground law defense.  They are really called The Castle Doctrine but are commonly referred to as Stand Your Ground. Since 2005, at least 45 states have enacted some form of this law.  In essence what the law states is that a person has the right to defend themselves, others, or their property from danger or being destroyed and they are not required to retreat at any point.  There are several versions of the law giving citizens different rights in different areas.  For example apparently Michigan's law allows you to defend yourself or those around you in any situation and in any place in which you have the legal right to be.  Most of these laws do stipulate that while a person does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to defend themselves, in lethal manners if necessary, it is not a defense when you are the aggressor or if your actions are the cause of the confrontation.  This has not stopped people from still attempting to use that defense and this is such a case.

On April 27, 2014 in a subdivision in Missoula Montana four shots rang out around midnight.  When it was all over a 17 year old German Exchange Student named Diren Dede was dead and 30 year old Markus Kaarma would be sentenced to 70 years in prison.  Kaarma argued to a jury that he had the right to fire the four shots at Dede (the last of which was a fatal shot to the head) claiming the Stand Your Ground law and that he was in fear of his life as his garage had been burglarized in the past few weeks. In fact, two of the first witnesses in his trial were teenagers who had since been convicted of burglarizing the garage ten days prior to the shooting.  Prosecutors argued that Kaarma was a time bomb waiting to happen and that he had baited the teen to enter his garage by leaving the door partially open and a purse inside. Diren Dede was not armed with any sort of weapon.

Markus Kaarma and his girlfriend, Janelle Pflager and their young son moved into the home, owned by Markus' mother, in September of 2013.  Over the next several months it seems that several garages had been "broken into" or burglarized.  The judge at Kaarma's trial stated that none of the garages that had been entered during this "spree" were completely closed and that no locked cars had been entered.  It had been discovered since the shoot that high school kids in the area played a game called "Garage Hopping" in which they would enter unlocked or opened garages mainly in search of alcohol, not that other things were not taken.  I think the point that the judge in this case was making was that although he did not necessarily condone the actions of any of the teens involved in the previous incidents, none had involved destruction of property or violence and that it was not reasonable that the show of forced used in this manner did not equal to the amount of force used in the crime.  

It appears that Kaarma's garage had been broken into at least the one time prior to the shooting, although it was alleged that it had happened twice prior in most things I found and defense attorney's apparently claimed three to four times. What we do know is that in the burglary in which the teens who testified were later convicted they had taken an IPhone, some alcohol, some marijuana and some paraphernalia. It was reported that Kaarma had called the stolen IPhone and threatened the person who answered but the teen, as teens do, did not take the threat seriously. Apparently it seems that Kaarma had reported this to the police, although I highly doubt he reported he had his marijuana stolen, and he felt like the police were not being aggressive enough in capturing the people responsible for the break ins in his neighborhood.  He and Janelle expressed as much to it seems anyone who would listen.  It also appears that according to statements made by both Kaarma and Janelle to others that they suspected that "kids" were involved.  This statement seems to be a bit important, at least in my opinion, because it would indicate that Kaarma did not consider the burglaries to be violent or sophisticated in nature.  

Over the next few days after the (at least reported) robbery Kaarma and Janelle had installed motion detectors and had placed a baby monitor (with a video receiver) in the garage.  In court several neighbors as well as a hair stylist that Kaarma had visited and some customers in that store reported that both Kaarma and Janelle had stated that they were staying up late at night because they were going to catch and shoot whomever was going into their garage.  Janelle also reportedly stated to people that they planned to bait the intruders. Prosecutors claim that is exactly what happened on the night of April 27th.  According to prosecutors, Janelle's purse was left visible inside the garage and the garage door was not completely shut.  Sometime close to midnight Diren Dede and another friend were walking down the street and while his friend waited Diren went into the garage which triggered the motion detectors.  Prosecutors then claim that after watching the baby monitor for approximately 20 seconds Kaarma emerged from the home carrying a pump action shotgun while Janelle carried a baseball bat.  Kaarma then went to the opening of the garage and according to neighbors they heard three consecutive shots and then a pause and then a fourth shot.  Janelle proceeded to call 911 for an ambulance and told responders that Kaarma had not helped or gone to Diren's aid in any way. When authorities reached the house they asked who had shot Diren, Kaarma admitted it was him. Most reports indicate that while Janelle did seem to be upset and shocked by the events, Kaarma was very calm and did not seem upset at all.

Officers took Markus Kaarma down to the police station to be interviewed.  It was here, combined with information from Janelle, that officers determined this was a deliberate act and that the couple had left "bait."  Throughout his incarceration, while awaiting trial, several conversations with Kaarma were recorded, some were with Janelle.  Some of those conversations were played or at least alluded to in his trial pointing out that Kaarma had no remorse for what he had done. In fact, one officer testified that Kaarma seemed to like the idea of the notoriety he had received being a murderer and referred to himself as an American Hero but said he was not being treated as one.  In one conversation with Janelle he stated that the entire neighborhood should congratulate him for killing a felon.  Although she later denied saying this in court, on the night of the incident Janelle had told officers that during the shooting Diren was pleading for his life.  This was important because it showed a lack of immediate danger to Kaarma.  Again, as stated above, there was no weapon of any kind found with Diren.  There was also no indication that Diren had even had the time to go towards Kaarma to indicate that he would harm him.  Of course the defense argued that Kaarma was anxious considering the previous break-in(s) and he reasonably believed the intruder was armed and coming towards him.  It was later argued (although admittedly I am not sure when side pointed it out) that at the point in which he was standing the motion sensor light was shining in Kaarma's face so he could not have had a full view of Diren.  This works more for the prosecution as it points to the fact that he could not say he was in immediate danger if in fact he could not clearly see.  The defense of course could have also claimed he could not clearly see, therefore he reasonably believed that the intruder was coming towards him.  It was later all but determined that Kaarma simply went out his front door, went to the front of the garage and started firing.  It is believed that the pause before the last shot was taken gave Kaarma the opportunity to aim better to which he fired the final shot that ultimately landed in the head of Diren.  I should point out something else at this point.  When the police were initially called and searching the area they had found marijuana in a jar in the garage and at some point just after the shooting blood tests were ordered to determine if Kaarma had drugs or alcohol in his system.  I was unable to determine what the results of those tests were but I am going to assume that nothing was found because I think we would have heard a lot more about that.

The defense actually attempted two tactics.  The first was attempting to use the Castle Doctrine as an absolute defense that gave Kaarma the right to defend his property and to use lethal force if there was a reasonable fear of imminent danger. Knowing that this defense is not always successful it seems they had a secondary defense ready to go.  They attempted to prove that Kaarma was suffering from severe anxiety because of the resent break in.  A doctor who had examined him at some point after his arrest apparently stated he suffered from anti-social disorder and anxiety.  This doctor also testified that Kaarma had "rearranged his life so he wouldn't have to deal with people" although I did not find anything specific with this.  To boost the idea of anxiety a man from a lawn company also testified at trial.  He stated that he had gone to Kaarma's home on April 23rd and was outside spraying for insects.  He claimed, although he had not reported the incident to the police, that while there, Kaarma came outside the house, naked, and pointed a shot gun at him.  The man said that Kaarma put the gun down and went back into the home after Janelle yelled at him and told him to stop.  The jury apparently did not believe either theory that the defense attempted and they found him guilty of deliberate homicide after nine hours of deliberations in December 2014.

At his sentencing in February 2015 Kaarma was facing between 10 and 100 years.  Prosecution was asking for at least 80 without parole for 40 while the defense was asking for 40 years but asking that all but 5 of those years be suspended.  After both sides, as well as family members of Diren Dede's and Markus Kaarma's made statements the judge was ready to rule.  Upon handing out a 70 year sentence (with parole a possibility in 20), the judge admonished Kaarma by saying "Your anxiety doesn't excuse the anguish you have caused. Anxiety is not an excuse.  You didn't protect your residence, you went hunting." The judge also stated that he considered a 2012 incident in which Kaarma had been arrested for assault against Janelle.  In fairness, Janelle had previously testified in court about that incident and had taken at least partial blame but I do not think she helped his case very much.  She seemed to be back tracking on a lot of things pertaining to anything that seemingly put Kaarma in a bad light and it is likely that both the judge and the jury saw this.  

So why did the Stand Your Ground or Castle Doctrine work in this case?  First, it was determined that the purse was placed in the garage and the door not closed fully on purpose and was considered to be "bait" for an intruder.  While both Janelle and Kaarma denied this, their previous statements to people as well as the fact that there was a list found in the house with all of the contents of the purse contradicted this. So, as it is generally thought that their actions brought the intruder to them and by doing that also brought the trouble to them it goes against the idea behind the law.  Now, some would ask if that is the case why is it that George Zimmerman was acquitted in Florida when he used the same defense. Personally for me that would be a great question, and my only answer is that it was in a different state, with different laws, and a different jury.  In addition when it came to this case it was determined there had been no sort of warning shot or any warning what so ever that he was coming around the corner to the garage. I believe the judge's statements concerning the previous break-ins in the neighborhood in which he stated that there were no forced entries or evidence of violence, were to counter Kaarma's claims of anxiety over the situation as well as his stated supposed fears for his family.  It seems that none of the previous situations went beyond the garage, and while in his previous case a phone was taken, for the most part it appears that simple things like alcohol were taken.  In theory the Stand Your Ground laws sound good.  The problem is that overly aggressive people seem to think that is an excuse to do as they please. I have heard of several cases where this has been attempted as a defense and most often it appears the defendant themselves brought the situation to themselves.  One in particular involved a man who was angry with his neighbors for loud music and a party and went over to the home and opened fire and then attempted to use this defense.  

This case, like so many others, brought on a lot of publicity and people coming out of the woodwork on both sides.  This is partially why before sentencing the defense had requested a new trial citing the media frenzy involved.  So often people base their opinions on a case solely on the information given in the media, and often before the trials, and not on the evidence provided.  It is sometimes difficult for those same people to be objective when the facts of the case come to light and I believe this is one of those cases.  On the surface it appears that a man was defending his property, and quite possibly his family, from an intruder who has taken it upon themselves to enter their property and more than likely take something that is not theirs.  As you dig deeper you find that while Diren Dede was definitely not in the right for going into the garage, you learn that he was nothing more than a teenager engaging in an act, that although was not legal, that was in essence harmless.  He was never given a chance to learn from this mistake because Markus Kaarma never gave him that chance.  Markus Kaarma was so hell bent on shooting someone on his property he lost sight of the fact of what he was doing.  I would like to say that part of me feels sorry for Kaarma, but his actions, comments and demeanor after (including his trial) proved that he had no remorse for what he did and for that I cannot feel sorry for him.


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