Markus Kaarma has asked the United States Supreme Court to review his 2014 Missoula murder conviction.
Kaarma was found guilty of deliberate homicide in December 2014 for shooting and killing 17-year-old German exchange student Diren Dede, who went into Kaarma’s Grant Creek garage in April of that year, apparently looking to steal alcohol.
He first appealed his conviction in late 2015, with the Montana Supreme Court deciding in February to uphold his 70-year prison sentence, which includes a 20-year restriction before he is eligible for parole.
The U.S. Supreme Court accepts very few cases for review, typically reserving its judgments for those that involve significant, unsettled constitutional or legal questions.
Kaarma’s attorneys Nate Holloway and David Maldonado wrote in their filing that the case raises a pair of “critical questions” of the Sixth Amendment: the right to an impartial jury and the ability of someone accused in a criminal case to control his own defense.
The request to the U.S. Supreme Court, called a petition for a writ of certiorari, includes a smaller number of issues than Kaarma’s appeal to Montana’s high court. It focuses on whether his requests to have the trial moved because of intense media coverage should have been granted and whether certain jury instructions given at trial should have been allowed.
“In a small-town setting, the sensational nature of this charge had a massive impact on the community. A firestorm of publicity ensued,” Kaarma’s attorneys wrote.
They also took issue with the jury instructions given by Missoula County District Court Judge Ed McLean. The jury was told about Kaarma’s claim of justifiable use of force in the defense of an occupied structure — which under the law allows deadly force if the occupant is subject to bodily harm, thinks they are in danger of bodily harm, or to stop a forcible felony.
Kaarma’s attorneys wrote that over their objection at trial, the prosecution proposed adding the second set of instructions about defense of a person, where the use of force for self-defense must be proportional to the harm or threat.
“Kaarma was denied the ability to proceed on the defense of his choosing. The elements were different and the instruction the State requested clearly imposed a higher burden before he could exercise deadly force,” Kaarma’s attorneys wrote in their petition. “This violated Kaarma’s autonomy and dignity to control his own defense and runs so contrary to the trial framework that it warrants reversal.”
In denying Kaarma’s appeal earlier this year, the Montana Supreme Court said while there had been widespread media attention, they did not believe it was enough to have prejudiced a jury pool against him to the point he could not have a fair trial in Missoula. The state justices also found that the jury instructions had reflected the testimony and evidence presented at trial.
Even if the highest court in the country declines to take up his case, Kaarma could continue to challenge his conviction with a civil suit.