A Montana man who shot and killed a German exchange student caught trespassing in his garage was convicted of deliberate homicide Wednesday despite arguing that a state “castle doctrine” law allowed him to use deadly force to protect his home and family.
Cheers erupted in the packed courtroom when the verdict in the case of Markus Kaarma, 30, was read. The parents of the victim, 17-year-old Diren Dede, hugged and cried.
“It is very good,” Dede’s father, Celal Dede, said with tears in his eyes. “Long live justice.”
Kaarma was stoic as he was led from the courtroom. He faces a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 11. His lawyers said they plan to appeal but did not comment further after the hearing.
On Thursday, Diren Dede’s parents will give statements for the judge to consider when determining Kaarma’s punishment.
Prosecutors asked for the hearing so Celal and Gulcin Dede wouldn’t have to return to Missoula for his sentencing.
Kaarma shot Dede in the early hours of April 27 after being alerted to an intruder by motion sensors. Witnesses testified Kaarma fired four shotgun blasts at Dede, who was unarmed.
Kaarma’s attorneys argued at trial that he feared for his life, didn’t know if the intruder was armed, and was on edge because his garage was burglarized at least once in the weeks before the shooting. They said Kaarma’s actions were justifiable because he feared for his family’s safety.
More than 30 U.S. states, including Montana, have laws expanding the right of people to use deadly force to protect their homes or themselves, some of them known as “stand your ground” laws. The self-defense principle is known as the “castle doctrine,” a centuries-old premise that a person has the right to defend their home against attack. The name evokes the old saying, “my home is my castle.”
Prosecutors argued Kaarma was intent on luring an intruder into his garage and harming that person. That night, Kaarma left his garage door partially open with a purse inside. He fired four shotgun blasts, pausing between the third and fourth shots, witnesses said. Three witnesses testified they heard Kaarma say his house had been burglarized and he’d been waiting up nights to shoot an intruder.
University of Montana law professor Andrew King-Ries noted state law does allow homeowners to use deadly force to protect their property, but it requires them to act reasonably.
“What the jury’s saying here is you have a right to defend yourself, but this isn’t reasonable,” King-Ries said according to the Denver Post.
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