MISSOULA — Their client stands accused of murdering a foreign exchange student, but Markus Kaarma’s defense attorneys say prosecutors are hindering their own investigation of the incident by blocking interviews with witnesses and attempts to review critical evidence.
In a motion filed in Missoula County District Court on Tuesday, Lisa B. Kauffman, one of Kaarma’s five attorneys, wrote that it has been the practice of Missoula County prosecutors to act as “gatekeepers,” denying defense attorneys the ability to interview witnesses or police officers without prosecutors being present.
“This pattern and practice impedes a defense investigation by silencing defense investigators and lawyers from revealing too much defense strategy when interviewing witnesses in the State’s presence,” she wrote, adding the practice fundamentally interferes with defense efforts.
The attorneys point to a separate affidavit that tells that one expert witness, private investigator Sharon Parks-Banda, has been continually blocked from interviewing witnesses.
In one instance, she attempted to interview a Great Clips hair stylist, who allegedly heard Kaarma say he was waiting up to “kill some (expletive) kid.” After giving an initial statement, the hair stylist told Parks-Banda that she wouldn’t be able to speak to her again without Deputy County Attorney Andrew Paul present.
Kauffman pointed to a 1997 case in which a Montana judge ruled the state cannot demand to attend defense interviews and ordered the prosecution to be excluded from participating in such interviews.
District Judge Ed McLean said at Kaarma’s omnibus hearing Wednesday, he would allow the interviewing of witnesses with the prosecutor present and if the prosecutor couldn’t be present he would allow the defense to order a deposition.
At the defense team’s request, McLean said he would provide a written copy of his decision.
Kaarma is accused of fatally shooting German exchange student Diren Dede when the 17-year-old Big Sky High School student entered his garage, apparently searching for alcohol, shortly after midnight on April 27.
Kaarma’s attorneys claim that he acted in self-defense, after his home was robbed several times in the three weeks before the shooting, and have submitted a lengthy list of 68 witnesses.
Aside from Parks-Banda, the list includes three other expert witnesses who specialize in ballistics, criminology and psychology.
One of those witnesses, Dr. Douglas C. Johnson, is a psychologist from the University of California, San Diego. According to his website, he studies how the neuro-system reacts under stress.
Another expert witness is Lance T. Martini, a former police officer who currently works as a criminalist/firearms consultant. Martini’s website says he specializes in the areas of firearms evidence examination, identification, and gunshot residue and distance determination.
Robby Pazmino, the Ecuadorian exchange student who was with Dede the night he was shot, has also been listed as a witness. Pazmino left the country after he was interviewed by police twice regarding the incident. It’s unclear whether Pazmino will return to the United States to testify.
Kaarma’s attorneys also submitted documents Tuesday, requesting expert witnesses have access to evidence held at the Missoula police station and the state crime lab.
On Friday, defense attorneys submitted a list of evidence they sent to prosecutors, which among other items includes an article printed in a German newspaper regarding Dede and a photo of Dede holding a gun.