MISSOULA, Montana (Reuters) - A German foreign exchange student shot dead by a Montana homeowner had entered the man’s property while “garage hopping” in a possible search for alcohol, an activity learned from friends, authorities said in court documents filed this week.
Missoula homeowner Markus Kaarma, 29, is charged with deliberate homicide in last month’s killing of 17-year-old Diren Dede of Hamburg in a high-profile case that is expected to test Montana’s “castle doctrine” self-defense law.
German officials have expressed outrage at the killing, and his father suggested in an interview with a German news agency that U.S. gun culture was at least partly to blame for his son’s death.
On the night of the shooting, Dede and a fellow exchange student from Ecuador were walking along the street when Dede approached Kaarma’s garage, the Ecuadorian told police in an affidavit filed on Monday.
The Ecuadorian student assumed Dede was looking for alcohol and started to walk away, the court papers said. He then heard an unfamiliar man’s voice and four gunshots and began to run, the court papers said.
Kaarma, a U.S. Forest Service firefighter whose house had been burglarized in recent weeks, was alerted to Dede’s presence by a video monitor. He walked outside and fired a shotgun into his darkened garage, killing the teen, prosecutors say.
The Ecuadorian student told investigators he and Dede learned about garage hopping from friends, and that both had gone out with friends three or four times and stayed in the car while friends crept inside garages, the court papers said.
The filing also said two teenagers, whom authorities did not identify, claimed responsibility for previous burglaries at Kaarma’s garage.
Kaarma is expected to invoke Montana’s castle doctrine, which allows use of force to defend against a home invasion if the person inside reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent an assault.
State legislation places the burden of proof for “justifiable use of force” with prosecutors, said Kaarma’s attorney, Paul Ryan. He said Kaarma would plead not guilty.
“It goes to subjective viewpoint of shooter versus an objective viewpoint which points to what he was going through - including burglaries,” Ryan said. “They were living in fear in their house.”
Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Leslie Adler