MISSOULA — Markus Kaarma, the man accused of shooting a 17-year-old German exchange student last month, entered a not guilty plea in Missoula County District Court Wednesday morning before Judge Ed McLean.
Kaarma faces a felony charge of deliberate homicide for shooting Diren Dede, a Big Sky High School student who apparently was searching for alcohol in Kaarma’s garage early on the morning of April 27.
During Wednesday’s arraignment, prosecutors requested McLean impose a higher bail of $500,000 on Kaarma, who is out of jail after posting the original $30,000 bond.
Missoula Deputy County Attorney Andrew Paul argued the initial bond was too low and was set by a substitute justice of the peace “who doesn’t handle cases of this magnitude.”
He further contended that Kaarma’s neighbors have contacted the county attorney’s office, saying they are fearful of Kaarma, and subsequent interviews have shown Kaarma to be an aggressive and violent person.
“We consider Kaarma to be a danger to the community,” Paul said before requesting bail be reset at $500,000. “We believe it’s necessary to protect the community.”
One of Kaarma’s attorneys, Brian Smith, countered that Kaarma’s neighbors have “nothing to fear” and insisted they are just “reacting to public outcry.”
McLean ruled in favor of Kaarma’s defense attorneys and honored the bail initially set in the case — allowing Kaarma to walk out of the hearing with his wife, Janelle Pflager, and their baby son.
Paul Ryan, Kaarma’s attorney, said McLean made the right decision, as his client hasn’t violated any conditions of his release. Ryan said he has turned in his guns — and as of Wednesday — his passport to authorities.
Paul said Kaarma felt relieved after the hearing.
“Certainly, he wants to be with his family,” Ryan said. “Right now, they are their only support system.”
No charges will be filed against Pflager, prosecutors said.
Kaarma appeared in court wearing a dark blue sports coat and gray pants. His primary defense lawyer, Ryan, has assembled a group of attorneys to collaborate on the case, including Smith, Katie Lacny, Lisa Kauffman and Nate Holloway.
Ryan said the attorneys have retained expert witnesses who are currently reviewing the case and will testify at the trial.
His attorneys have also interviewed Kaarma’s friends and family, including firefighters who formerly worked with Kaarma and support him in the case.
But prosecutors contend Kaarma has a history of road rage and aggression.
In the 19-page affidavit filed last week, prosecutors pointed to a number of incidents when Kaarma allegedly acted with aggression toward other drivers on the road.
In all three cases, Kaarma was allegedly driving well below the posted speed limit on April 26 — the day before the shooting. When one motorist attempted to pass him twice, Kaarma repeatedly turned his truck to block the roadway and then confronted the man.
“The defendant jumped of his truck and started yelling at the witness,” the affidavit stated. “The witness said that the defendant was yelling gibberish.”
Another witness experienced a similar reaction from Kaarma and told the police that his language was “thick.” She said that he appeared to be high or drunk when he was yelling profanities at her during the episode.
Investigators also interviewed two stylists at Great Clips hair salon, where Kaarma routinely got his hair cut.
The stylists said Kaarma didn’t appear to be venting when he got his hair cut on April 23, but that he was really angry at some teenagers he thought were burglarizing his garage.
“And I’m not (expletive) kidding, you’ll see this on the (expletive) news,” he allegedly told one stylist. “I’m going to (expletive) kill ’em.”
According to prosecutors, Kaarma and Pflager intentionally tried to lure burglars into their garage after they were burglarized in the weeks prior to the April 27 shooting. Those perpetrators took marijuana, marijuana paraphernalia, an iPhone and a credit card.
Pflager allegedly became “hyper-vigilant” after the burglaries, according to the affidavit. She bought and installed motion detectors and set up a video surveillance camera inside the garage and near the garage’s entrance.
On the night of April 26, the couple put their baby in bed and ate dinner, sat in their hot tub and watched a movie. At some point in the evening, the couple smoked cigarettes in their partially opened garage. Kaarma later told police he thought they had shut the garage before they sat in the hot tub, but Pflager may have opened it later in order to “entice the suspect(s) to come back inside their garage.”
A little after midnight, Kaarma and Pflager were alerted to someone’s presence in the garage. Pflager allegedly told Kaarma to “get out there” and Kaarma grabbed a gun and exited the front door of the home. Pflager, who was right behind him, thought she heard Kaarma say “hey, hey” and the young man responded “hey” or “wait.”
Kaarma fired four shots into the back of his garage; two of the shots struck and mortally wounded Dede.
Pflager called 9-1-1, and turned on the lights in the garage. It was only then that Kaarma allegedly saw the boy dying on his garage floor.
Directed by the dispatcher, Pflager pressed a nearby pet pad onto the boy’s wounds. He was pronounced dead at St. Patrick Hospital later that morning.