MISSOULA — A District Court judge on Wednesday scolded the Missoula attorney representing a man accused of killing a German exchange student for “playing to the public” and running “a public relations campaign.”
Attorney Paul Ryan responded by canceling plans to host a free community screening of Thursday’s U.S.-Germany soccer match, insisting he never made the connection between slain student Diren Dede’s nationality and love for soccer, and the U.S.-Germany matchup in the World Cup.
District Judge Ed McLean made the connection quickly during Wednesday morning’s omnibus hearing.
“In this morning’s Missoulian, there’s an article about the televised soccer event,” McLean said. “I don’t want any playing to the public when we have serious business at hand, and it’s not the time to run a public relations campaign. So knock it off.”
Ryan’s client, Markus Kaarma, is charged with deliberate homicide for fatally shooting the unarmed teenager in his Grant Creek garage on April 27. Dede was an all-state soccer player and Big Sky High School student; he also played soccer in his home country.
Following the hearing, Ryan canceled plans he announced late Tuesday to host a soccer-watching party in Caras Park. Ryan said he supports many charities and events throughout the year and simply missed the U.S.-Germany connection to the pending murder case.
“First of all, it was an unintended consequence,” he explained in a phone interview following the hearing. “The event itself is what this is about. We didn’t connect the two. Based on what the judge said today, we are going to cancel the event.”
McLean also told Ryan that if wanted the court to be flexible with the trial’s venue, Ryan would have to cease what he perceived as pandering to the public.
During Wednesday morning’s hearing, Kaarma’s attorneys, including Brian Smith and Lisa Kauffman, also asked the judge to rule on a motion requesting unfettered access to the prosecution’s witnesses.
In a motion filed Tuesday, the attorneys wrote that the current practice of the prosecutor acting as a gatekeeper to witnesses “impedes a defense investigation by silencing defense investigators.”
“Essentially they are telling the witnesses not to talk unless the state’s present,” Smith said.
McLean said he would allow witnesses to be interviewed by the defense team with the prosecutors present, and if the state couldn’t be present, he would allow Kaarma’s attorneys to request a deposition.
But Smith asked the judge to review the motion and write an order.
“I will be glad to put my response in writing in the form of an order,” McLean responded.
Kaarma’s attorneys also requested access to Dede’s phone after prosecutors declined to investigate it, claiming they didn’t have probable cause.
“Already one phone has left the country, as has one witness,” Smith said, referring to Dede’s friend, Robby Pazmino, who was with him the night of the shooting and returned to his home country of Ecuador following interviews with Missoula police.
McLean ruled in favor of the defense team, allowing the phone to be analyzed by expert witnesses retained by Kaarma’s attorneys.
In addition, the judge set a trial date.
Kaarma’s trial is set for Jan. 5 at 8:30 a.m., but that is subject to change depending on the court’s and judge’s schedules.
Dede was fatally shot by Kaarma a few minutes after midnight on April 27 when he entered the garage attached to Kaarma’s Grant Creek home, apparently looking for alcohol.
Defense attorneys say Kaarma was acting in self defense after his home was burglarized several times in the weeks before. Prosecutors paint the crime as a premeditated act, as Kaarma and his wife allegedly set a trap for would-be burglars in their garage and then waited until they were alerted to an intruder’s presence by a baby monitor and motion sensors.