MISSOULA — Missoula County prosecutors are objecting to a change of venue request for the trial of Markus Kaarma, the 29-year-old Missoula man who shot and killed an unarmed German exchange student when the teen entered his Grant Creek garage on April 27.
In their motion to move the trial, Kaarma’s attorneys failed to prove that Missoula County’s jury pool has been tainted by media reports, argued Missoula Deputy County Attorney Jennifer Clark. There is no proof of actual prejudice in the community, she said, despite the defense’s argument that local media sensationalized the case and influenced community opinions.
“It is of paramount importance to note that the media coverage on this case has been factual in nature and does not contain editorializing or inflammatory language,” Clark contended in her objection.
In a motion to move the trial, Katie Lacny, one of Kaarma’s five attorneys, argued that both television and print media painted Kaarma as a “cold-blooded killer” in an attempt to vilify her client.
She described a “media frenzy” surrounding the case, as local media broadcast or published 188 items about the shooting. Of those 188 documents, 69 documents and photos related to the case were published in the Missoulian, but only 23 were actual articles. The remaining 46 items were photos and court documents. Included in her argument are pages upon pages of reader comments posted online at Missoulian.com.
However, those comments are not representative of the entire population of Missoula County, Clark argued, but rather are opinions voiced by a few of Missoulian.com readers, some of whom commented dozens of times.
“It must be emphasized that none of those comments appear in the print edition, television coverage of this case, or in the actual news story itself on the website, but rather are part of a comment section reached by a link from the news story itself,” Clark argued in her response.
As an example, attached to one Missoulian.com article about the case a single user commented 31 times and another user posted 34 times, Clark retorted.
“The Defendant cannot establish the need for a change of venue by showing that a few readers of the Missoulian, readers who may not even reside in Missoula County, have negative opinions of him,” she wrote.
Along with Lacny’s motion to move the trial venue, attorneys also filed a motion to keep Kaarma’s “bad acts” from the public by sealing the case’s pretrial proceedings. Missoula prosecutors didn’t object to that motion.
Kaarma’s attorneys will likely file a response to the prosecution’s motion before District Judge Ed McLean issues an order.
Kaarma’s attorneys contend that he shot Big Sky student Diren Dede in self-defense after his home was burglarized in the weeks prior to the April 27 incident.
But prosecutors paint a more sinister picture, arguing that Kaarma and his common-law wife, Janelle Pflager, premeditated the act by leaving the garage to their Grant Creek home partially open, setting a purse inside the garage, and setting up video surveillance and motion detectors.
When Dede entered the garage shortly after midnight, the couple was alerted to his presence by a video monitor. Kaarma grabbed his gun, exited the front door of the home and fired four times into the garage without turning on the light.
Two of the shots struck and killed Dede, who was apparently searching for alcohol in the garage.
Prosecutors later charged Tristan Staber, 18, and another teenager who is a minor, with burglarizing Kaarma’s home on at least one prior occasion. Neither alleged burglar had any connection to Dede.