Lawyers for a man accused of deliberate homicide in the death of a German exchange student are taking another shot at moving the trial outside Missoula County.
In a brief filed last week in Missoula County District Court, lawyers for Markus Kaarma continue to allege Missoulian coverage has been “ripe with factual inaccuracies,” and the team renewed its call for a change of venue – already denied once. The defense alternately requests holding a trial in Mineral County, or selecting a jury from Mineral County and bringing them to Missoula.
Last month, Judge Ed McLean denied Kaarma’s first request for a change of venue. In an order, he stated the lawyers had failed to prove that news coverage was inflammatory or had tainted public opinion to the extent Kaarma could not receive a fair trial here.
“The publicity thus far in this case has been, by all accounts, factual in nature,” McLean wrote.
In the Sept. 4 court document, Kaarma’s defense team “respectfully disagrees” with the judge.
Kaarma is accused of a felony count of deliberate homicide for shooting 17-year-old Diren Dede on April 27, when the minor entered the defendant’s garage in search of alcohol.
The defense argues Kaarma fired shots in defense of his family.
Prosecutors, however, argue the incident was premeditated. They allege Kaarma and his wife, Janelle Pflager, left the garage door open on purpose and left a purse inside to lure intruders who had burglarized their home prior to the shooting.
In the brief, the lawyers accuse the Missoulian of editorializing in headlines and stories. In particular, the defense takes issue with the term “garage hopping” as “a minimization” of the activity by Dede and another teenager who was with him.
“There is no mention that the decedent was actually committing a crime by entering said garage,” read the court document.
The defense also points to the theme of “baiting” as inappropriately “injected” into the coverage.
“The article … state(s) that together, Markus and his common-law wife set up surveillance cameras and motion sensors hoping to catch burglars and that they essentially baited would-be burglars in,” read the court document.
In its renewed request, the defense also takes issue with a quote from the prosecution, “opining that the Castle Doctrine would not apply in the present case because, ‘(Markus) actually sought Dede out by essentially trapping him in the garage.’ ”
“The net effect of this article is to paint Markus as a conniving maniac, intent on luring and then killing unsuspecting individuals in his garage,” read the document.
The defense points to words in headlines – and also differences in headlines in the Kaarma case compared to one in the recent shooting at the Fox Club Cabaret. It faults the use of the word “slain” in one Missoulian headline.
“Even the title of this article itself represents the editorialization, ‘slay’ means to ‘kill by violence’ when used with an object, and ‘to kill or murder’ when used without an object,” read the document. “The choice of words of the title implies that Markus violently killed or murdered Dede.”
“Words are important, and the words that have been repeatedly chosen to portray Markus and his defense have been inflammatory,” said the court request. “The news media has engaged in editorializing about the allegations (against) Markus; a change of venue is appropriate.”
According to documents filed earlier in court, the couple set up a video monitor and motion sensors inside and outside the garage. Once the video alerted the couple to Dede, Kaarma grabbed a gun and exited the home through the front door, documents said.
The defendant turned and faced the partially open garage door, fired four shots into the darkness, and struck and killed Dede with two of them, prosecutors said.
They later charged Tristan Staber, 18, and another teen, a minor, with burglarizing Kaarma’s home on at least one prior occasion. Both males said they had no connection with Dede, a German exchange student enrolled at Big Sky High School.
As part of its argument that Mineral County could serve as a “fair location,” the defense notes “the county also has its own independent newspaper. Many there also subscribe to news out of Spokane and/or Idaho.”
If the court rules against a move to Mineral County, in the same 4th Judicial District as Missoula County, the defense requests the parties use a questionnaire to poll random jury pool members “to inform the court as to whether or not actual prejudice does exist in Missoula County.”
Trial is set for December.