Kate Walker and Randy Smith, the Missoula couple who hosted 17-year-old foreign exchange student Diren Dede in their home until he was gunned down in a garage just down the street, expressed relief in the wake of Wednesday's verdict.
“It’s been a long time coming, but a positive verdict,” Smith said, his voice choking with emotion. “I’m very happy. I think justice was done. It doesn’t bring back Diren and it doesn’t undo the pain that was caused to so many people, but a happy ending.”
Walker and Smith lived moments away from Markus Kaarma, who now stands convicted of deliberate homicide in Dede's death.
The teenager was walking through the neighborhood with a friend when he decided to go into Kaarma's partially open garage, apparently in search of alcohol. Seconds later, he lay mortally wounded on the garage floor.
Smith said he hasn’t spoken to any of Dede's friends from Big Sky High School, except to shake their hands and hug them in the courtroom after Wednesday afternoon's verdict.
He described the past two weeks as intensely stressful.
“You just get wound up tighter and tighter as the finish line approaches,” he said. “I was confident that it would go this way.”
Walker also expressed relief at the outcome.
“Now we’re very relieved and there’s a big weight off of our shoulders,” she said. “It was a very, very good day for us.”
Walker said that the outcome of the trial provided closure for her and her husband, as well as for Dede’s family – who traveled to Missoula for the trial.
“Yes, absolutely, we all needed that,” she said. “It doesn’t bring him back to us, and that’s the saddest part of all, but it helps us move forward.”
Walker also said she hopes that Kaarma doesn’t succeed if he does appeal the verdict.
“I personally agree that he should go to prison for this,” she said.
Walker also believes that Kaarma and his partner, Janelle Pflager, will move out of the neighborhood.
“I sort of expect them to move,” she said. “I can’t imagine they’ll want to stay after all this. The neighborhood won’t be that friendly to them.”
Walker was in court, near Dede’s family, when the verdict was read.
“I’m there for Diren,” she said. “For them, too, but to be there for Diren as well. He was very much our son, too. I miss him just like he is our son.”