Prosecutors in Markus Kaarma's deliberate homicide trial on Friday attacked the defense's first expert witness, who received his doctorate from an unaccredited university that is now defunct and was paid $44,000 to investigate the case and testify.
Kaarma, 30, is accused of fatally shooting Diren Dede, a German foreign exchange student who was searching for alcohol in Kaarma's Grant Creek garage in the early hours of April 27.
Kaarma's attorneys contend he shot the 17-year-old in self-defense after his home had been targeted by a ring of burglars; prosecutors, however, argue Kaarma and his partner, Janelle Pflager, baited would-be burglars into the garage to shoot them.
During her cross examination Friday afternoon, Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jennifer Clark focused on Dr. Ron Martinelli's experience and academic training, discrediting previous statements indicating he had pre-medical background and had experience “training doctors.”
Martinelli received his doctorate from Columbia Pacific University, a distance-learning college that was never accredited and closed more than a decade after he graduated in 1983.
“It was closed because it had virtually no academic standards, correct?” Clark asked Martinelli.
In his testimony for the defense, Martinelli – who worked as a police officer before he became a law enforcement consultant – called out apparent flaws in the investigation, and said if he were investigating the case he wouldn't have recommended a deliberate homicide charge against Kaarma.
"Because based on what I saw, I felt there was much more work that needed to be done before they made their decision," Martinelli said.
He criticized the investigation of the burglary that occurred in the Kaarma residence 10 days before the fatal shooting, testifying police officers who investigated the crime should have immediately followed up on credit card charges made that night at a local Wendy's restaurant. The officer who responded also failed to photograph a wet footprint believed to be made by the burglars, later determined to be Tristan Staber and Mykel Martin, while they were in the garage, Martinelli said.
The night of the Dede's shooting, Martinelli said, detectives failed to test the ambient light and should have used a more collaborative approach in gathering information.
"Every minute after a crime, you start to lose evidence," he said.
The patrol officers who first arrived on the scene should have been documenting everything that was moved or disturbed by emergency medical responders, he said.
Investigators also failed to take into account Kaarma's emotional and psychological state, Martinelli said.
In such a "high-stress event," he said, a person's hearing could be diminished and his memory could be flawed. Normally, it would take 72 to 100 hours for a person to regain 90 percent of his or her memory, indicating that Kaarma should have been interviewed at least three days after the shooting.
In summary, Martinelli argued that officers charged Kaarma too soon, then scrambled to make the evidence fit the charge.
"Detectives who have limited information or no experience, will make a faulty judgment," he said. "They start trying to wrap up the investigation around faulty theory. They try to shove a square peg into a round hole and if that doesn't work for them, they start picking out what doesn't fit."
When Clark cross-examined him, he admitted that during his 200-plus homicide investigations, he had never waited three days to interview a suspect. But he also noted that those homicides were robbery or gang-related.
The defense called several more police officers before District Judge Ed McLean adjourned the trial until Monday.
Earlier in the day, defense attorneys concluded their cross examination of Missoula Police Detective Guy Baker, the lead investigator on the Kaarma case.
One of Kaarma’s five attorneys, Lisa Kauffman, began her cross-examination of Baker on Thursday, but was cut short after being reprimanded by the judge for her method of questioning. She continued Friday morning.
“We are going to start off the day with some things we can agree on,” she told Baker.
The agreements didn’t last long.
Kauffman focused her questions on discrediting Baker’s background and expertise in homicide investigations.
She pointed out that Baker has no college degree, only 100 hours of homicide investigation training and no specific training on self-defense shootings.
She noted testimony from the state’s ballistics expert, Travis Spinder, that indicated Kaarma may have fired the four shots consecutively and that he may have fired his shotgun from either the hip or the shoulder.
Why, Kaufmann asked, was Kaarma was arrested and charged before the police finished their investigation?
Baker explained there was probable cause to arrest and charge Kaarma at 9 a.m. April 27 – about nine hours after the shooting.
When investigators met with the state medical examiner later that day, they concluded more evidence was needed from the crime scene and went back to Kaarma's home for that purpose.
Kauffman further noted that Baker never tested to confirm that blood splattered on the back of Kaarma’s Buick was in fact Dede’s blood. She suggested it could have been rust or blood from an animal, from Kaarma's game cart sitting on top of the Buick.
The trial will resume Monday at 8:30 a.m., and McLean predicted Friday the jury will begin deliberations Wednesday.