MISSOULA — Attorneys for a Missoula man accused of shooting and killing a German exchange student want to seal some court documents and proceedings and move the trial out of the county, saying the case has drawn so much attention that it will be impossible for Markus Kaarma to get a fair trial.
The case has brought outrage in Germany and death threats against Kaarma, and he has been painted as a “cold-blooded killer, a gun nut and a paranoid, trigger-happy drug dealer,” defense attorney Katie Lacny said in a 208-page motion seeking a change of venue.
Kaarma has said he shot 17-year-old Diren Dede in self-defense because Dede was in his garage late that night in April. Prosecutors say Kaarma set a trap after marijuana, wallets and cellphones were taken in earlier burglaries. Two other teens confessed to those break-ins, investigators have said.
“Both the community outcry and media coverage surrounding this matter have created a bias against Markus Kaarma that cannot be overcome in Missoula County,” Lacny wrote.
Another defense motion filed Friday asks that some pretrial proceedings be sealed. The prosecution wants to introduce evidence of “prior bad acts.” It’s not clear what they’re referring to, but defense attorneys are fighting to keep it from being made public.
Due to “concentrated media coverage” there is a “high likelihood that evidence, not yet deemed admissible, will be widely circulated,” prejudicing potential jurors, the defense wrote.
Lacny said county prosecutors likely will try to argue that the defense stirred up its own publicity when lead defense attorney Paul Ryan set up a watch party for a World Cup soccer match between the United States and Germany. Dede was an avid soccer player. The viewing event was not held and Lacny argued that shouldn’t weigh on any decision to change the venue.
District Judge Ed McLean addressed the watch party plan during a hearing the day after it was announced.
“It’s not the time to run a public relations campaign, so knock it off,” McLean said.
“If you’re going to be playing to the public, do not expect this court to seriously consider any motions for change of venue,” the judge said.
Ryan canceled the watch party shortly after the June 25 court hearing.
McLean hasn’t ruled on either defense motion.