December 11 2014
– Testimony in the deliberate homicide trial of Markus Kaarma revealed Thursday that he saw the German exchange student in his garage and shot directly at him three times, then stopped to readjust and deliver a final, fatal blow when Diren Dede stood from behind a car.
Kaarma, 30, is on trial in Missoula County District Court for the April 27 shooting of 17-year-old Dede, who was a foreign exchange student and soccer player at Big Sky High School.
Defense attorneys argue that Kaarma shot Dede in self-defense after his home had been burglarized in the preceding weeks. But prosecutors contend that Kaarma and his partner, Janelle Pflager, baited would-be burglars into the garage to shoot them.
Thursday marked the seventh day of trial for the Missoula man. The consul general of Germany, Stefan Schlueter, sat with Dede’s parents, Celal and Gulcin Dede, during the proceedings and met with Missoula County prosecutors.
Missoula Police Detective Guy Baker took the stand Thursday afternoon and under examination by Deputy County Attorney Andrew Paul explained the cluster of pellets in the walls and appliances of the garage indicated that Dede was moving parallel to Kaarma and away from the kitchen door as Kaarma fired three rounds.
The first three rounds hit at about 30 inches off the ground, but the last cluster was 5 1/2 feet high – indicating Kaarma could see Dede while he moved, Baker said.
“At some point, Diren stood up and was facing Mr. Kaarma with Mr. Kaarma at the back of the Buick and Diren at the front of the Buick,” he said. “And he was shot in the head.”
The prosecution also played Kaarma’s recorded interview with police. Wearing the same pajama pants he wore during the shooting, Kaarma seemed relaxed as he relayed the series of events that led to the fatal shooting.
He said Pflager left the garage door partially open because she “probably wanted to catch the burglars.”
When he and Pflager were alerted to the intruders’ presence via motion detectors and video surveillance, he grabbed his loaded shotgun lying on the entryway floor and exited the front door of the house, he said.
He placed himself between the white Buick and his “strategically parked truck” with his back to the outside. He said Pflager turned on the home’s exterior lights before he fired the shotgun – inhibiting his ability to see.
“When you said you were blinded, tell me what was going through your mind?” Baker asked in the video.
“I am going to die, because someone’s life is about to be over,” he said. “Their life is going to be not worth living and they would probably kill to get away.”
He heard a metal-on-metal sound and thought the person inside was coming after him, Kaarma told detectives. He imagined an ax or a wrench being thrown at his head.
He then told detectives he fired four shots consecutively into his garage without a pause – contradicting Pflager’s initial testimony. Most of the couple’s neighbors also testified there was a pause sometime after the initial two or three shots were fired.
On the stand, Baker outlined several other discrepancies between Kaarma’s testimony and Pflager’s initial statement. Pflager said she didn’t turn the light on outside until after the shots had been fired. She also said Dede and Kaarma exchanged a few words before Kaarma shot him, while Kaarma said nothing was said.
Baker testified Thursday that Dede’s blood splattered on the back bumper of the Buick indicated the teenager was crouching behind the car with his wounded arm and stood up before Kaarma shot him in the head.
As Lisa Kauffman, one of Kaarma’s defense attorneys, launched into cross-examination, she took exception with Baker testifying on blood spatter analysis, calling it a “specialized field in the area of forensic science.” She also asked that his testimony be stricken.
“I don’t mean to disparage you, sir, but you don’t have a college degree, do you?” Kauffman questioned.
Baker responded that he didn’t, in fact, have a college degree.
But the cross examination was cut short by District Judge Ed McLean, who dismissed the jury for a “housekeeping” issue after Kauffman took umbrage with the judge’s objection to one of her questions.
“We don’t have a blood spatter analyst,” Kauffman said after the jury left. “I don’t know if we have experts … that can speak to blood spatter. So I understand you are upset with me about something else, but I just wanted the record to be clear that his testimony regarding anything that has to do with blood should be stricken.”
Earlier in the day, the prosecution played a recording of a jailhouse phone call Kaarma made to Pflager after he was arrested.
Prosecutors played brief excerpts of the longer recording during their examination of Missoula Police Detective Stacy Lear.
In the recording, Kaarma initially told his partner it was pitch black in the garage, but later confirmed that he saw the teenager and saw he was holding something in his hand.
He also asked Pflager if she had heard him scream at all, and she confirmed that she had heard Dede yell something before he fired the first shot.
He told Pflager he didn’t know what the intruder wanted and that Dede could have been aiming a weapon at their baby’s crib. He said the intruder was “trapped” and was threatening him and his family.
“This guy is a felon,” Kaarma told Pflager. “He was committing a felony crime in our house. He wasn’t a 17-year-old kid.”
“Everyone should rejoice that our neighborhood is safer, (expletive) idiots,” he added.
He commiserated with Pflager about being “mentally (expletive) up” because they weren’t getting sleep and felt so anxious about the security of their home. They felt they were being watched by a ring of burglars, he said.
And he repeated conversations initiated by other inmates at the jail.
“What you in here for, bro?” they allegedly asked him.
“You should see the looks on their faces when I say homicide,” Kaarma told Pflager. “There are no other murderers in here.”
The prosecution also called Randy Smith, Dede’s host father, who gave an emotional testimony and described the teenager as a “great kid.”
Smith said Dede had a midnight curfew on weekends and 11 p.m. on weekdays, and said they never had any issues or conflicts with the young man.
Smith said he and his wife, Kate Walker, initially just wanted to be a welcome family for Dede and weren’t planning on hosting the entire year. But within a week, they changed their mind.
“He was just such a great kid,” Smith said. “We knew maybe it would be more fun in another house with a built-in brother or sister to hang out with. We didn’t want to just put pressure on Diren.”
So they asked Dede’s soccer coach, Jay Bostrom, to ask Dede if he would like to stay with them.
Dede, of course, chose to stay with Smith and Walker in their Grant Creek home, which sits a street down from Kaarma’s home. Smith also talked about the friendship between Dede and Robby Pazmino, the Ecuadorian who was with him the night he was shot.
“I would pick both of them up at school on Friday,” he said. “They were like brothers.”
On April 27, he said he woke to four loud bangs – three consecutive and one more after a pause, and then watched as police cars and emergency responders descended upon the neighborhood.
He went downstairs to check on the teens and spoke to Pazmino, who told Smith he and Dede were taking a walk and ran after they heard the gunshots. Pazmino said he didn’t know where Dede was, and didn’t immediately tell his host father that Dede had entered the garage.
Smith, Walker and Pazmino then returned to Kaarma’s home in hopes of seeing Dede.
“I couldn’t see him standing anywhere,” he said. “I didn’t want to barge in, but there was a female uniformed police officer. I went down to talk to her and I said I don’t know what you’ve got going on here.”
Smith explained that he was missing his charge, and the police officer told him that Dede had been injured and they needed to get to the hospital immediately.
Kaarma’s trial resumes Friday at 8:30 a.m.
– Kathryn Haake