Attorneys representing Markus Kaarma, who was convicted last month of fatally shooting a foreign exchange student in his Grant Creek garage, have filed a motion in Missoula County District Court asking for a new trial.
The defense team contends the significant media coverage tainted the jury pool and made a fair trial impossible. In addition, they say Kaarma's Sixth Amendment rights were violated during his three-week trial.
Alternatively, the attorneys asked the court to change the verdict of the trial by finding 30-year-old Kaarma guilty of mitigated deliberate homicide instead of deliberate homicide, because "two recent burglaries" caused their client "extreme mental and emotional stress."
Kaarma fatally shot 17-year-old Diren Dede last April 27 while the Big Sky High School student was apparently looking for alcohol in Kaarma's garage. High school students call the practice "garage-hopping."
In the 102-page motion, one of Kaarma's five attorneys, Nate Holloway, continues the defenders' argument that extensive media coverage of the case permeated Missoula County and tainted the jury pool.
It's the same argument Kaarma's attorneys used prior to the trial in three failed attempts to change the venue to a different county. All of those motions were denied by Judge Ed McLean, who presided over the trial.
"Defendant was deprived of a fair trial because prejudicial, inflammatory media coverage so saturated the community that an impartial jury could not be drawn and a fair trial conducted," Holloway wrote in the latest motion.
Holloway argued that 450 news items were published in Missoula County and many stories were "highly prejudicial."
He said that 56 percent of the jury pool responded on their jury questionnaires that they had already formed an opinion on Kaarma's guilt or innocence, while 89 percent of the prospective jurors knew about the case from the media and 26 percent indicated they couldn't be fair.
Holloway referenced several Missoulian stories, including one published several weeks before the trial that outlined some of Kaarma's criminal history in Seattle and Missoula.
He suggested the article tainted jurors' opinions further and their "bias" wasn't properly communicated to the court, as the juror questionnaires had already been completed before the story was published.
In addition, Holloway said the jury instructions violated Kaarma's Sixth Amendment right to control his own defense.
"Moreover, it was unlawful for the State to argue to the jury that Defendant was not in an occupied structure, and that he was the initial aggressor, at the time of the shooting," Holloway wrote.
Paul Ryan, Kaarma's lead attorney, didn't immediately return a request for comment. Chief Deputy County Attorney Jason Marks said the Missoula prosecutor's office didn't have a comment.
During December's trial, Kaarma's attorneys argued that he shot into the darkened garage in a desperate attempt to protect his wife and baby boy – who was sleeping inside the home – from a burglar.
They consistently referenced a teenage burglary ring, suggesting that Dede and his friend Robby Pazmino were part of a larger group of criminals who had targeted Kaarma's Grant Creek home.
Kaarma's garage was burglarized 10 days before by a pair of teenagers who were arrested and convicted of burglarizing his home. However, both teens denied any connection with Dede or Pazmino.
Prosecutors alleged Kaarma premeditated Dede's death by baiting would-be burglars into the garage. Kaarma allegedly announced to a hair stylist in the days before the shooting that he was "waiting up to shoot some (expletive) kid," while his wife Janelle Pflager told neighbors they intended to bait the burglars into the garage to catch them.
The state's castle doctrine didn't apply, as Kaarma exited his home and fired the shots into the garage – essentially becoming the aggressor against Dede, prosecutors contended.
After nine hours of deliberation, the jury sided with prosecutors' arguments – finding Kaarma guilty of deliberate homicide.
Kaarma is currently being held in the Missoula County jail pending his Feb. 12 sentencing.