MISSOULA – The defense rested its case Monday in the murder trial of a Montana man who shot and killed a German exchange student inside the man’s garage.
Markus Kaarma fired four shots into his garage early April 27, killing 17-year-old Diren Dede. He was alerted to Dede’s presence in the garage by a motion detector.
Prosecutors say that after a previous burglary, Kaarma was intent on harming an intruder when he shot Dede.
Kaarma’s attorneys say Montana law allowed him to use deadly force to defend his home.
Defense lawyers presented less than two days of testimony after calling police officers and two expert witnesses. One attempted to discredit the police investigation in the case, and another spoke of how the brain shuts down when under stress.
Douglas Johnson, a U.S. Navy psychologist and expert in brain behavior in high-stress situations, said when someone is in a “fight or flight” situation, it’s the perception of a threat and not an actual threat that can set off that reaction. Part of that response includes a loss of ability to consider alternative actions or behavior, he said.
“If it’s chronic stressor, your ability to handle it deteriorates,” he said.
Johnson told prosecutors he was paid $23,000 to testify.
Kaarma’s attorneys have depicted him as an anxious person who was under stress after his home was burglarized in a separate incident April 17. They also say because of that and another incident in which he suspects he was burglarized, Kaarma felt targeted and afraid for his family.
Neighbors testified last week that Kaarma’s girlfriend told them the couple planned to bait burglars into entering their garage so they could catch them. Kaarma’s girlfriend, Janelle Pflager, denied attempting to bait anyone, although she did leave a purse in the garage. The garage door was also left partially open that night.
Missoula police Officer Jeff Lloyd also testified Monday that after the shooting he saw Kaarma light the wrong end of a cigarette and that he appeared “shook up.” When questioned by prosecutors, however, Lloyd said Kaarma lit the wrong end only after he was told police wanted to take him to the police station for questioning. Before that, Kaarma was able to smoke without any issues, Lloyd added.
Defense attorneys rested their case by showing videos of Kaarma in the police interview room after he was told he would be charged with deliberate homicide. In both he’s sniffling and in one he’s alone crying with his head down on a table.
District Court Judge Ed McLean told jurors that rebuttal testimony will take place Monday afternoon. Closing arguments will begin Tuesday and jurors can expect to begin deliberations in the afternoon, he said.
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