MISSOULA -- The guilty verdict in Markus Kaarma’s deliberate homicide trial on Wednesday encouraged advocates against gun violence, but left others convinced Montana’s gun laws worked properly.
“I’m thrilled that court justice prevailed and vigilante justice didn’t,” said Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, on hearing of Kaarma’s conviction for murdering 17-year-old Diren Dede during a break-in of Kaarma’s Grant Creek garage in April. “It’s all the more reason we need to look at why Markus Kaarma is in this culture. He believed he had a right to bait and kill a 17-year-old in the sanctity of his garage. Today a Montana jury said, ‘You don’t.’ ”
Hill said while she supported the Second Amendment right to bear arms, she opposed using laws to encourage carrying firearms at banks, bars, university campuses, hospitals and other public places where they’d been restricted in the past.
Montana Shooting Sports Association President Gary Marbut said those laws were not in question during the Kaarma trial. Neither, he added, was the "Castle Doctrine" concept that a person is entitled to use lethal force in self-defense.
But a legal change that Marbut supported in the 2009 Legislature did get tested and come through with a good result, he said. That was a new law that required the prosecution to prove someone claiming self-defense was in fact guilty, instead of making the defendant prove innocence.
“That’s the standard that applied to the Kaarma trial, and the prosecution was able to meet that burden,” Marbut said.
Although Kaarma claimed he feared for his family’s safety after enduring previous break-ins at his home, jurors concluded he was not justified to fire a shotgun four times at the unarmed Dede.
Marbut testified in 2004 at the Missoula trial of Samuel Yates, who was convicted of shooting 17-year-old Randy Brown in the back after Brown broke into his car. At the time, Marbut argued that Yates was justified in shooting because Brown was close enough to pose a threat.
“For a thousand years, our religious and ethical codes have always understood that a person who was at risk for serious bodily injury could defend themselves, including taking a human life,” Marbut said. “Because an assailant may not respect your request to please not kill you until the police come to sort it out, that resort has to be immediate. How long does that take for someone to stab you with a knife, compared to police response times?”
The jury in the Yates case deliberated just four hours before deciding Yates had committed felony homicide rather than self-defense.
The Montana chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America praised the Kaarma verdict on Wednesday. Volunteer Julia Starrett said the group has about 800 members in Montana, and formed shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012.
“We know that, unfortunately, there are laws on the books that embolden people like Mr. Kaarma to shoot first and ask questions later,” Starrett said in an email. “As moms who are dedicated to reducing the 86 gun-violence deaths in our country each day, we believe that responsible gun ownership goes hand in hand with common-sense safety measures that keep our children safe, and today we are pleased to see that justice prevailed in the state of Montana.”