A western Montana man charged in the shooting death of a 17-year-old exchange student in his garage is receiving death threats and is afraid to leave his home, the man’s attorney said Tuesday.
Markus Kaarma, 29, was released from jail Monday after posting a $30,000 bond on a charge of deliberate homicide in the death of Diren Dede of Hamburg, Germany. Since then, Kaarma, his partner Janelle Pflager and their 10-month-old baby won’t leave their Missoula home after receiving the threats, attorney Paul Ryan said.
“They’re really on edge about what’s going to happen to them and their baby. They’re captives in their own home,” he said.
Kaarma is a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service who moved to Missoula a few months ago. He originally is from Mercer Island, Wash., and he moved to Montana to pursue his dream job in a place where he wants to raise his family, Ryan said.
Kaarma and Pflager’s home had been burgled twice since they moved in a few months ago and they were frustrated and disappointed in the lack of police assistance, the attorney said.
Just days before the shooting, Kaarma told a woman that his house had been burglarized a couple of times and he had been waiting up for three nights with his shotgun to shoot “some f—— kid,” court records said.
Prosecutors allege Kaarma set up sensors outside their garage and a video monitoring system in the garage. They left the garage door open late Saturday and Pflager said she put personal items that she had cataloged in a purse in the garage “so that they would take it.”
Kaarma told investigators he heard the sensors go off early Sunday, spotted someone in the garage on the video and went outside with his shotgun.
He said he feared the intruder would hurt him. He did not shout out to the person inside before sweeping the garage with four shotgun blasts, charging documents allege.
Dede was struck in the head by one of the blasts. A second person who was in the driveway but has not been identified ran away from the scene, Missoula County deputy attorney Andrew Paul said.
The shooting has reignited debate over a state law that gives a person the right to protect his or her own home from a threat, commonly known as the castle doctrine. Ryan said the castle doctrine absolutely applies in this case — Kaarma did not know who was in his garage, whether the person was armed or what his intent was.
“This kid made the decision when he walked in. Nobody forced him into this garage,” Ryan said. “Once (Kaarma) heard that noise, he didn’t want to be wrong.”
Even before Kaarma made bail, a state lawmaker proposed legislation to strike changes made to Montana’s self-defense law in 2009. The law now says a person who is threatened with bodily injury or loss of life has no duty to retreat from a threat or summon law enforcement assistance prior to using force.
It also says a person can use force in the case of unlawful entry into or attack upon an occupied structure, or if needed to prevent an assault or other forcible felony. A person can use reasonable force to detain someone if there’s probable cause a suspect is committing or has committed an offense and circumstances require that person’s immediate arrest.
Democratic Rep. Ellie Hill of Missoula said the law goes too far.
“I’m saying that this law — the castle doctrine and the stand-your-ground — it’s created this over-arching belief by otherwise reasonable gun owners that results in vigilante justice,” Hill said Tuesday.
Gary Marbut with the Montana Shooting Sports Association, who helped draft House Bill 228, said it is premature to say the law is broken and needs to be fixed.
“For example, suppose the charges against the homeowner stick and he is convicted,” Marbut said. “That would prove that Montana laws are working just fine the way they are now.”
“The deficit is that people generally don’t go to the trouble to learn the law,” he said. “If they’re going to possess the means to apply lethal force, they need to have a good understanding of when and how that is permissible.”
Still, Marbut doesn’t believe the legislature will overturn the changes made in 2009, noting they were passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
“We need to let the wheels of justice turn before we can make any kind of informed judgment about whether or not the law needs correction,” Marbut said.
Hill said she’s received support from around the state after announcing her bill draft request.
“In Montana, we prefer common sense gun laws,” she said in an email.
Helena Mayor Jim Smith, who lobbied on behalf of the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association and the Montana County Attorneys Association in their opposition to the 2009 bill, said Tuesday that both groups thought the existing law was adequate.
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