The killing of a 17-year-old exchange student from Germany is sparking a major debate about Montana’s self-defense laws.


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On April 27, Markus Kaarma, 29, shot and killed Diren Dede after the teen broke into Kaarma’s home garage. Prosecutors allege that Kaarma set a trap to lure burglars. He has been charged with deliberate homicide.

The New York Times reported:

Teenagers call it garage hopping. The goal was to sneak into an open garage, steal some beer or other items and slip away into the night. It was dumb and clearly illegal. It was not supposed to be deadly.

Around midnight on April 27, a 17-year-old exchange student from Germany named Diren Dede left the host home where he played Xbox and drained cans of Sprite to set off with a friend through his dark hillside neighborhood. They passed a home whose garage door hung partially open. Using a cellphone for light, Mr. Dede headed in.

Inside the house, motion sensors alerted Markus Kaarma, 29, to an intruder’s presence. Two recent burglaries had put Mr. Kaarma and his young family on edge, his lawyer said, and he grabbed a shotgun from the dining room and rushed outside. He aimed into the garage and, according to court documents, fired four blasts into the dark. Mr. Dede’s body crumpled to the floor.

While Mr. Kaarma has been charged with deliberate homicide, Mr. Dede’s death has set off an outcry an ocean away in Germany, exposing the cultural gulf between a European nation that tightly restricts firearms and a gun-loving Western state. In his defense, Mr. Kaarma is expected to turn to laws enacted in Montana five years ago that allow residents more legal protections in using lethal force to defend their homes.

According to The Associated Press, police believe Kaarma “may have been impaired by alcohol, dangerous drugs, other drugs, intoxicating substances or a combination of the above, at the time of the incident.”

Today on Happening Now, criminal defense attorney Tom Kenniff said the homeowner had a moral and legal right to defend his home. “It would be unreasonable for him not to,” he said, adding that the man was protecting his girlfriend and child.

Prosecutors allege that Kaarma set a trap by leaving his garage door open and setting up a surveillance system. He also allegedly made statements in the days before the incident about shooting a kid.

In a similar case we told you about last month, a Minnesota man was recently convicted of murdering two teens who broke in to his home. Byron Smith was also accused of luring the teens after a series of break-ins. 

Trial attorney Rebecca Rose Woodland countered Kenniff’s argument. “This is where the doctrine may not fully apply. The garage door was open in an intention to lure the people in. […] Did you have an intention to protect your home. Well then, why was your garage door not closed when you already had these previous problems?”

Watch the full debate above.


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