To an outsider, the neighborhood is so peaceful, it’s almost sleepy in the midwinter sun.
But red, yellow and black ribbons – the colors of the German flag – flutter in the breeze and tell a different story. They are tied carefully around a tree trunk in Leslie Wozniak’s front yard – a painful reminder of Diren Dede, the German teenager who lost his life in a garage across the street.
Her house is situated slightly above the home of Markus Kaarma, the man convicted of deliberate homicide in the shooting death of 17-year-old Dede, an exchange student studying at Big Sky High School.
“He’s got so much anger,” Leslie said Friday morning. “He’s just a time bomb. … It was just a matter of time.”
In the Wozniaks' living room, the window shade is drawn – in part so they don’t see Kaarma’s truck across the street. It’s parked in the same space it was when Kaarma propped himself up in front of it and fired four shots at the unarmed teenager.
It was shortly after midnight on April 27. After three shots, prosecutors said Kaarma paused, readjusted his aim and delivered the final, fatal shot at Dede, who was pleading for his life.
“Every time I look over there and that truck is parked there,” Leslie said, “I just have this flashback that he’s still there. That truck is such a reminder of him. I would be at home and hear it start up in the morning. Whenever I heard the diesel start up – if I was outside, I would go in. He just scared me.”
Kaarma no longer lives in the house across the street. After he was convicted in December, Missoula District Court Judge Ed McLean denied bail for the Grant Creek resident.
Now he resides in the Missoula County jail, awaiting his sentencing this Thursday.
On a deliberate homicide conviction, Montana law provides for a sentence between 10 and 100 years.
Leslie and Tom Wozniak, along with many of their neighbors, hope that McLean hands down a stiff sentence.
“He never showed any remorse ever, even at the trial,” Tom said. “He was just kind of cocky. I think to this day, he doesn’t feel like he did anything wrong. I think he feels like he was totally in the right. When we'd see him, he’d look at you and give you kind of a smirk.”
The neighborhood, in general, is anxious to close this chapter in its history and move on.
“Apprehensive” is the adjective another neighbor, Frank Allen, used to describe his feelings. He’s somewhat removed from Deer Canyon – his house sits several streets above the Wozniaks and Kaarma’s on Pinnacle Place.
However, the aftermath of the fatal shooting affected his peace of mind too. He and his wife Maggie have attempted to show their support for Dede’s family and his host family, Randy Smith and Kate Walker. The colors of the German flag hang from their tree too.
“It’s such a sad thing and it will haunt a lot of people for a long time,” Allen said. "But … I think the legal proceedings have gone on and on, and people would like to see those wrapped up.”
Before the shooting, the Wozniaks had never met their new neighbors, Kaarma and his partner Janelle Pflager. The young couple moved into the six-bedroom house with their baby boy in September of 2013. They had different schedules, no children in school with the Wozniak children, and seemed to be night owls, the couple explained.
During the morning hours of April 27, Leslie and some of the other neighbors watched the “nightmare” unfold outside the window, after four shotgun blasts awoke them.
Moments after the shooting, an ambulance rushed a dying Dede away from the garage, as Missoula police descended on the residence.
“Who shot him?” asked one of the first officers to arrive on scene.
“I did,” Kaarma said, calmly.
Kaarma was taken to the police station, questioned and arrested. He spent a day in jail and made several phone calls to his partner, Janelle Pflager. During one phone call, he said his neighbors should congratulate him for killing a “felon.”
“Everyone should rejoice that our neighborhood is safer, (expletive) idiots,” he told her on the call, recorded by jail officials.
Kaarma was released on bail following a brief appearance in Missoula Justice Court.
Gone now are the days when the Wozniaks left their back door unlocked. Gone too are the days they felt safe with their 17-year-old son Dylan walking through the neighborhood at night to visit a friend or to get a soda from a nearby gas station.
Immediately after the shooting, “everybody was on lockdown,” Leslie said. “And if I wasn’t home when my kids came home from school, I would ask them to text me and let me know they were home. I was just a little more cautious than ever before.”
All three Wozniaks – mom, dad and son – were called into testify during Kaarma’s three-week trial. The defense attempted to paint the neighbors as having an agenda against their client, pointing out that Leslie Wozniak never reached out to Pflager and Kaarma, and never became friends with the new family across the street.
It’s true, the Wozniaks have a poor opinion of Kaarma, but their opinion was primarily formed after Kaarma shot Dede, and not before, they said last week.
“He wanted us to think of him as a hero because he saved us from this ring of burglars – from this ring of bad kids,” Leslie said. “You know ... if anyone has the right to be biased, it’s us. It’s the people who live right here.”
As she stated in her testimony, it could have easily been her 17-year-old son wandering into Kaarma’s garage that night – not that the couple condones such behavior.
“My son is a good kid,” she said. “He doesn’t get into trouble, but who’s to say that he wouldn’t be the kid walking into the garage? You can’t guarantee that your kids are going to make the best choices, no matter how good your parenting is.”
“I can guarantee you that there are not very many parents out there that could say their young boy didn’t do anything – or didn’t get into any type of trouble. Not anything bad – just mischief,” she added.
A few years ago, some of that “teenage mischief” was aimed at their house.
“You think we would have shot the kids that egged our house two or three times with brand new paint?” Leslie said. “No. We put a surveillance camera up so we could find the little stinkpots and call their parents.”
“You don’t wait in the garage with a shotgun,” she said.
At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, McLean will hear defense attorneys’ arguments for a new trial.
Last month, Kaarma’s team of lawyers made a last-ditch effort to gain a new trial for their client, arguing that media coverage has been prejudicial.
The media's bias tainted jurors' opinions of Kaarma to such an extent they couldn’t set aside those thoughts to arrive at an objective verdict, they argued.
If a new trial isn't warranted, then they asked the judge to find Kaarma guilty of mitigated homicide, instead of deliberate.
Prosecutors objected to the motion, and the defense team responded Friday, arguing the media created such a hostile atmosphere that Kaarma and Pflager felt they were prisoners in their own home.
Kaarma’s lead attorney, Paul Ryan, also claims that a shot was fired through the window of his home.
It’s the fourth time the lawyers have made such an argument – contending before the trial that subjective reporting made it impossible to select an unbiased jury in Missoula County.
Allen, a former dean of journalism at the University of Montana, said he found the news coverage factual. It is time, he said, to put the legal procedures to rest.
“I’m wary of the defense maneuverings and I kind of hope that they will cease soon,” Allen said. “I don’t find their arguments credible for having a new trial or having a change of venue for the trial.”
“I certainly found the implication offensive that the jurors couldn’t be fair. The jurors took an oath to be fair,” he added.
If McLean rules against the motion for a new trial, Kaarma’s attorneys could appeal the case to the Montana Supreme Court, continuing the case at Kaarma’s expense.
The neighborhood, Leslie Wozniak said, remains on pins and needles and will be until the family leaves.
“We just want (Pflager) to move away, so that there’s an end to all of it – she’s gone and the house is for sale and we have someone else there that fits into the neighborhood,” she said.