Montana homeowner convicted of setting deadly trap for German student

Montana homeowner convicted of setting deadly trap for German student
Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Dale stands in front of an X-ray showing shotgun pellets in Diren Dede's head during testimony last month in Montana. (Kurt Willson / The Missoulian)

A Montana man accused of setting a trap for burglars in his garage, and then shooting a German foreign exchange student who entered, was found guilty of deliberate homicide, a jury decided Wednesday.

Markus Hendrick Kaarma, 29, of Missoula, had been burglarized twice in two weeks before the April 27 shooting, and investigators painted him as a man spoiling for confrontation.


Kaarma and his partner, Janelle Pflager, set up surveillance equipment in the garage and left out a purse, with the garage door partially open, as bait.

Diren Dede, a 17-year-old exchange student from Hamburg, Germany, entered the garage -- possibly to steal an alcoholic drink, a friend with him said -- and Kaarma shot Dede in the arm and the head with a shotgun.

Jury deliberations began Tuesday. Kaarma claimed self-defense under Montana law, which generally allows for deadly force if there is a reasonable belief that the home is in danger. The charge brings up to 10 years in prison. Pflager was not charged.

The case raised sensitive questions over the limits of self-defense at a time when such shootings resulted in the deaths of several unarmed people -- including Trayvon Martin in Florida -- in high-profile cases. 

When police arrived on the scene, Pflager was applying first aid to Dede, and there was little denying who was responsible, according to court documents.

"Who shot him?" a Missoula police officer asked after arriving on the scene, according to an affidavit.

"Me," replied Kaarma.

"You?" said the officer, noting later that Kaarma seemed unusually calm.


Kaarma told officers that it was too dark to see inside the garage and that he "panicked" when he thought Dede might attack him with a tool or a knife, thinking to himself, "I'm gonna die."

He told officers he "aimed high," fired four shots in a sweeping motion across the garage and heard something hit the ground. It was Dede's body.

"I never saw anything with my own eyes until Janelle turned the lights on" two seconds later, Kaarma told investigators, according to the affidavit.

Kaarma told investigators he was worried about the intruder getting away and the neighborhood burglaries continuing, the affidavit said.

The couple reported only the second of their two burglaries to police. The first incursion resulted in Kaarma losing marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia he kept in the garage.


Police later said they found two males, ages 18 and 16, who confessed to at least one of the earlier burglaries from the couple's garage. The teenagers said they had no connection to the foreign-exchange student.

The investigation took another turn when detectives interviewed witnesses at a local salon who said that Kaarma frightened them with vulgarities and threats of violence, adding that he said before the shooting he had been waiting up for three nights in a row to "seriously kill some ... kids."

"I'm not ... kidding, you'll see this on the .... news," Kaarma said, one witness recalled to investigators. "I'm going to ... kill them."

Neighbors also told investigators Kaarma had been behaving oddly around the neighborhood and confronting drivers who passed him when he sometimes drove extremely slow on local roads.

A local lawn-care worker testified at trial that when he arrived one day to spray the lawn for insects, Kaarma, naked, burst out of the house and pointed a shotgun at him, according to the Associated Press.

"Instead of staying in that house, in a protected area, this is their response: Showtime," prosecutor Karla Painter told the jurors of Kaarma and Pflager, according to the Associated Press. "From the moment he left that structure, he became predator, Diren became prey."

Kaarma's attorney, Paul Ryan, told jurors: "He didn't go out there with intent to kill. He went out there to catch him," the AP reported. "This was not luring. This place had become a target."

When Kaarma was found guilty Wednesday, the courtroom reportedly burst into cheers as he remained expressionless, according to the Missoulian. Dede's parents, who had come to see the trial, were in tears.

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