MISSOULA — Attorneys representing Markus Kaarma, the Missoula man accused of killing a German exchange student in Kaarma’s garage last April, are asking a judge to bar the public from viewing pretrial evidence of Kaarma’s “prior bad acts.”
And they want the trial moved out of Missoula County due to the “public outcry” and extensive media coverage.
The shooting in Grant Creek has garnered international attention from German officials and German media. But according to one of Kaarma’s attorneys, Katie Lacny, the local media tainted Missoula’s jury pool by vilifying her client and painting him as a “cold-blooded killer.”
In a 208-page document requesting a change of venue, Lacny said Kaarma has been held captive in his home and is receiving death threats.
Kaarma has been “demonized already in the Court of Public Opinion,” as media coverage has “aroused sympathies and created a community outcry against” Kaarma, she argued.
“The pretrial publicity has stirred up pervasive and strong passions of anger, hatred, indignation, revulsion and upset in such a manner that jurors chosen from Missoula County could not determine Markus’ guilt or innocence in a fair and unbiased manner,” Lacny wrote. “The coverage has been inflammatory.”
Lacny said prosecutors will argue Kaarma’s lead attorney, Paul Ryan, attempted to manipulate the media by “agreeing” to host a live screening of the Germany vs. United States World Cup game in Caras Park several weeks ago. After being chastised by the judge for attempting to sway public opinion, Ryan decided against hosting the viewing.
“This argument is simply a red-herring and should have no bearing on the issue of venue,” Lacny wrote.
Exchange student Diren Dede, who died shortly after being shot in Kaarma’s garage, was a soccer player – both at Big Sky High School and back home in Germany.
Lacny said there have been 188 news items disseminated by five major news networks, serving a relatively small population.
Of those 188 news items, she said the Missoulian published 69 items related to Dede’s death. The Missoulian has published 23 stories about the incident, as well as five letters to the editor, including several defending Kaarma’s actions.
Lacny also included pages of reader comments posted on Missoulian.com in her motion for a change of venue.
“The portrayal of Markus has been on the whole negative and inflammatory,” she wrote. “The articles and dialogue continue. While there are certainly some commentators who appear to be pro-Markus, the overwhelming majority seek to vilify him.”
The unopposed motion to seal evidence was written by another of Kaarma’s attorneys, Nate Holloway, and asks the judge to seal any evidence of Kaarma’s “prior bad acts” the prosecution may present before his trial.
“The court may seek media cooperation in delaying dissemination of potentially prejudicial information; however, ‘media’ is not what it once was,” Holloway wrote.
He argued that anyone using social media and present in the courtroom could broadcast information via their social media accounts.
Deputy County Attorney Andrew Paul, who is prosecuting the case, does not object to hiding the evidence from the public, but Chief Deputy County Attorney Jennifer Clark said Tuesday she will be filing an objection to the change of venue within the next two weeks
Kaarma faces a felony count of deliberate homicide for shooting 17-year-old Dede on April 27, when the exchange student entered Kaarma’s garage searching for alcohol.
His defense counsel, consisting of Lacny, Ryan, Holloway, Brian Smith and Lisa Kauffman, argue that he fired the shots in defense of his family.
But prosecutors claim the incident was premeditated.
In a 19-page affidavit, prosecutors claim Kaarma and his wife, Janelle Pflager, left the garage door open intentionally and left a purse inside the garage in order to bait intruders, who had burglarized their home in the weeks prior to the incident. The couple also set up a video monitor and motion sensors inside and outside of the garage.
When Dede entered the garage shortly after midnight, they were alerted to his presence by the video monitor. Kaarma allegedly grabbed a gun and exited the home through the front door.
According to prosecutors, Kaarma turned and faced the partially opened garage door, and fired four shots into the darkness – two of which struck and killed Dede.
Prosecutors later charged Tristan Staber, 18, and another teenager, who is a minor, with burglarizing Kaarma’s home on at least one prior occasion. Both males said they had no connection with Dede.