Montana Stopped "Stand Your Ground" From Standing In The Death Of Diren Dede

In the most recent test of “Stand Your Ground” laws, a Montana jury rejected Markus Kaarma’s claim that he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed a German exchange student in his garage last April, and convicted him of deliberate homicide on Wednesday. The 30-year-old now faces a minimum of ten years in prison.

Diren Dede, an unarmed teenager, had been studying abroad for the year at Missoula’s Big Sky High School and only had a few weeks left in the States when he died.

Shortly after midnight on April 27, motion sensors indicated that someone had entered Kaarma’s garage. He responded by grabbing his shotgun and firing four rounds into the darkness. Two of the bullets hit Dede – one in the head, killing him. Kaarma, like many other homeowners who have responded to perceived threats with deadly force, claimed that he was justified in shooting into the garage to protect himself and his family. The Missoula jury did not buy his claims.

After the verdict was read out to a packed courtroom, Dide’s parents cried.

It is very good — long live justice.

Dede’s death had provoked outrage in Germany over the lax U.S. gun laws and protective schemes for vigilante homeowners.

Julia Reinhardt, press spokesperson for the German Consulate in San Francisco, told USA Today that the German government was following Dide’s case closely.

We hope that justice will be done to make it clear to everyone that an unarmed juvenile cannot be lawfully killed by a citizen in Montana simply because he has trespassed in a garage.

Over the past few years, more than 30 states have expanded their “Stand Your Ground” laws to allow homeowners more discretion in deciding what is a threat and when to respond with force. Many of these changes – including Montana’s revision to its self-defense statutes in 2009 – came at the urging of the National Rifle Association, which has a vested interest in the proliferation of guns and gun use. In 2009, Montana changed its “Stand Your Ground” statute from allowing homeowners to respond with force when someone undertook a violent action against them to allowing force whenever a homeowner reasonably believed himself or his family to be at risk.

Of course, what a homeowner believes to be a reasonable threat is quite subjective, which makes it difficult for prosecutors to argue against and juries to interrogate. In Kaarma’s case, fortunately for the prosecutors, enough circumstantial evidence existed to debunk the self-defense argument.

For instance, neighbors testified that Kaarma and his longtime girlfriend, Janelle Pflager, had complained about previous burglaries and were upset that the police had not taken done much to catch the burglars. According to the neighbors, Pflager had mentioned that they were taking matters into their own hands and setting a trap to lure the burglars back into the garage.

On the night in question, Kaarma and Pflager left the garage door partially ajar with a purse inside. When the motion sensors in the garage went off, Kaarma went to the door with a shotgun and fired four rounds off into the dark without warning, even though he couldn’t see. Afterwards, in his interview with police, Kaarma expressed his concern that the intruder would get away.

And a hairdresser that Kaarma visited a few days before the shooting reported that he had come into the Great Clips shop belligerent. According to Felene Sherbondy’s affidavit, when she asked him how he was doing, he replied, “I'm just waiting to shoot some fucking kid."

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Not all “Stand Your Ground” cases are so simple. Until our legal statutes curtail the broad discretion given to armed homeowners to respond with deadly force, we will continue to lose innocent people to mistakes and overreaction (at best) and malice (at worst).

One Montana state lawmaker from Missoula, Representative Ellie Hill (D), is proposing legislation to repeal the 2009 changes to the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

What the castle doctrine has done in this country is it has created a culture of gun violence and vigilante justice, Hill told a Missoula newspaper. And it's created a culture that it's okay to shoot first and ask questions later.

If he had had any idea of how lax the U.S. gun laws were, Cecal Dede told a German news agency after Diren’s death, he would not have allowed his son to study abroad in Montana.

I didn't think for one night that everyone here can kill somebody just because that person entered his back yard.

Images: Getty Images (2)