Shakespeare dared ask the question, to be or not to be:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
What recently happened in Missoula, Montana contains all the elements of a Shakespearean saga. A 29-year old American man of Korean descent with the fatidic name Markus Kaarma took arms against his sea of troubles and as old Frank Sinatra would say, ended them his way.
Missoula, Montana is a medium sized city with a small town feel. You can drive one hour in any direction to be in the wilderness, but it also has many amenities and a University which means the possibility of following College sports and a constant flux of population.
Property value is pretty high and jobs do not come easy, but it is considered safe and friendly by most. Enough to attract tourists and newcomers to the dismay of some residents eager to keep their little paradise a well kept secret.
Markus Kaarma and his girlfriend Janelle Pflager had moved to Missoula in 2014, a few months prior to the tragic situation that would end up with the shooting death in April, of 17-year-old German exchange student Diren Dede and of Kaarma being charged with deliberate homicide. A case that became high profile very fast because of the nature of the crime and the fact that the perpetrator invoked the “castle doctrine,” which permits homeowners in Montana to use force if they believe there is impending harm or a threat.
Before moving in a beautiful house in a quiet cul-de-sac of the Grant Creek’s Prospect neighborhood, Kaarma had lived in Seattle, Washington where he was raised in the affluent area of Mercer Island. He graduated from High School and was an accomplished athlete, excelling in football, track and swimming. He had planned for a college degree in criminal justice, but opted instead to become a wild land firefighter. The nice home he lived in was purchased the year before by a relative who obviously did not mind letting the couple and their child occupy it.
Just a few houses down from the Kaarmas, lived 17-year-old exchange student Diren Dede who was the guest of a host family for a single school term. According to the couple who gracefully took him in and to his teachers and peers, he was a very nice and friendly young man who never caused any trouble. He played soccer at school and fitted very well in his new American setting.
Unfortunately for Diren and the friend that accompanied him on April 27, he made the bad decision to enter the open garage of Markus Kaarma as a prank, probably to steal booze or pot; we will never know. As most teenagers do at that age, he probably wanted to impress and participate in “garage hopping.’’ It turned out to be a fatal mistake.
As demonstrated by science and patterns of behavior through centuries, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the parts of the brain responsible for more ”top-down” control, controlling impulses, and planning ahead which are the hallmarks of good behavior, are among the last to mature. The fact that so much change is taking place beneath the surface is something to keep in mind during the ups and downs of adolescence and explains why crime rates are highest among young males . This phase is usually outgrown with maturation unless the damage is already done or in case of an encounter with an angry individual who feigns total amnesia about his own bad deeds and decides to execute a teen.
I do not know if Kaarma obtained his marijuana for medical reasons, which could have been the case in Montana if he had a doctor’s prescription, but he was known to calm his ‘social anxiety’ by smoking weed in his garage which he kept there with his bong and a grinder. He also was in the habit of leaving personal items like a wallet and a phone laying around. If he was not a legal card bearer of the Montana dispensary, it means he was breaking the law. Not that I care, but it would make it a double standard to judge a teenager intent on doing something illegal and immature if he smoked pot illegally and also had a criminal record. It should have made him aware of his own flaws and less critical of petty crime.
A Marijuana Legalization Amendment was put on the ballot in November 2014, but defeated by voters and in Montana, possession of 60 grams or less of marijuana is still a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment and a fine of $100 to $500. A second offense is punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment and/or a fine up to $1,000.
Open House and open Garage
Tristan Alfred Staber who is 18-year-old and was already in custody on April 19, 2014, on a probation violation, admitted in early May that he was the one responsible with an accomplice for the burglary on April 17, of marijuana, a bong and an iPhone from the unlocked garage of the Kaarma residence and a wallet from their unlocked vehicle.
Staber was charged with felony conspiracy to commit burglary, which is punishable by 20 years in Montana State Prison and/or a $50,000 fine. He also faces a misdemeanor charge for conspiracy to commit criminal trespass to a vehicle. Being only 16, his accomplice’s case will be handled in Youth Court, but he also testfied at Kaarma’s trial. Michael Martin testified to stealing items from Kaarma’s garage 10 days before the shooting.
When the first break-in happened in the Kaarma’s garage, you would think that his wife or a friend would have told him to chill and take a pill. He took this incident personally and instead of following the advice of the police, did not lock his garage or doors to avoid another incident from happening. He went right away into vigilante mode.
According to neighbors, Pflager called the teens who stole their iPhone, yelled at them, and warned them they could get shot if they came back. They were incensed and blamed the police for not moving quickly enough with the ‘investigation.’ News flash! Small burglaries without forced entry are not high priority for busy policemen and they usually show up so you can make a report to your Insurance company. The perpetrators were apprehended, but not right away as it was not a life and death situation.
They claim to have been burglarized a second time, but there is absolutely no proof it ever happened because they did not call the police and we have no way of knowing if anything was taken. One must ask if it was a ploy to look more victimized and justify their subsequent violent actions. If a burglary report has not been filed, we cannot assume it happened. An open garage door is an invitation for impulsive teens eager to step on the wild side.
In the early hours of April 27, Diren Dede was walking in the neighborhood with his friend smoking cigars and doing what teenagers do after a night of playing video games. When they passed by the Kaarma’s garage and saw the door ajar, Diren impulsively went in while his friend waited on the street. What he did not know was that Kaarma had set up mention sensors and a video monitor after the first burglary and was waiting for his prey.
When Kaarma and Pflager realized there was someone in their garage, instead of calling the police and waiting inside, Markus the vigilante took his gun, left his wife and baby inside and went in the direction of the garage. According to Pflager, Diren yelled and made his presence known, but her husband shot him three times, stopped and shot him a fourth time. The boy died a short time later.
In the process of ‘defending’ his family, this father of the year shot inside his own house. Not knowing where the baby and his mother were, he could have possibly made other victims in the process. So this man, instead of locking up his garage and doors, decided to set a trap and execute whoever dared coming near his castle.
He probably thought that a 2009 amendment to state law that shifted the burden of proof onto prosecutors as to whether a homeowner was in fear for his life when exercising lethal force would be protecting him from any legal consequences for his actions. Well, not unlike his open garage door scheme, his plan was full of holes.
Kaarma was arrested on April 27, 2014 at around 9 a.m. His lawyer called his arrest a rush to judgement, but what were the cops to do when they encountered an armed man with the body of an adolescent riddled with bullets laying in his garage? They could not take a chance after the man admitted killing him. He was released on bail after being processed, interrogated and arraigned. His next step was to prepare for trial and hire costly experts.
Diren’s parents who are of Turkish descent, flew to Montana from Germany to attend the trial and make funeral arrangements. What a shock to realize that your son who was doing so well was suddenly murdered for making a stupid mistake that should have never cost him his life.
Even countries known for their harsh punishment using lashes, caning or cutting a hand off for stealing, would never think an ‘open garage raid’ deserves an execution.
The German media sent reporters to Missoula where the trial started on December 4th, in spite of several attempts at a change of venue. At first, Germany was very critical of the ‘gun culture’ that prevails in the US but eventually, we saw a shift in the reporting of the journalists and in the opinion of Diren’s family who realized how welcoming and peaceful most of the Montana residents were.
They received an outpouring amount of support. There were only a few people defending Kaarma’s actions and they plainly were not a majority. I cannot help wondering if like George Zimmerman, Kaarma received money to fund his defense from NRA’s minions, or if his family had to foot the bill because him and Pflager were unemployed.
The opening statements were not complicated. Prosecutors had the testimony of neighbors and hairdressers who were told by Kaarma and Pflager that they were planning to shoot kids by baiting them and setting a trap in their garage. The motion detectors and video camera were never intended to alert them so they could call the police, but to allow Markus to hunt the perpetrator with gun blazing.
The Defense said Kaarma wanted to make sure his family was safe and he was simply protecting them because he felt under attack after a rash of garage invasions. Experts on PTSD were called to explain how he reacted to the menace of burglary. One expert blamed the police for not doing their job and not taking foot and finger prints after being called to investigate.
They were accused of leaving Kaarma in a state of despair with no other choice than to take matters into his own hands. One expert was attacked for his lack of valid credentials, but in his defense, he did not have much to work with. His client was suffering from social anxiety and PTSD because teen robbers entered not his house, but his unlocked garage and stole menial property. What else could he do, but blame the cops?
If Kaarma wanted to hold on to his property, he simply had to keep it inside the house and lock his doors. In a perfect world, we would not have to, but this is life and as comedian George Carlin used to say ‘People it is only stuff’. You do not die or kill over an iPhone or a bong, at least not where I come from. If intruders had come into his house and had become a threat, it would have been an entirely different story.
During the trial, several people were comparing being blamed for leaving the garage door open to rape victims being blamed for the way they dressed. How lame is this? Any woman warned not to go back in a dark back alley after she was raped once, will never go back there. An open garage is not like a woman dressed seductively, but about common sense dictating you take the measures necessary to secure your safety in the face of imminent danger, unless you live in Pleasantville.
By the way, research data clearly indicates that the way a woman dresses does not influence at all if she will be attacked or not. Instead, rapists look for victims they perceive as vulnerable, the same way burglars look for an open garage. We obviously cannot blame a vulnerable victim of rape, but the owner of an open garage makes himself vulnerable.
Kaarma was found guilty of deliberate homicide on December 17th and is scheduled to be sentenced on February 11, 2015. He is facing a sentence ranging from 10 to 100 years.
Many questioned why Janelle Pflager did not get charged or convicted with her husband. Lead prosecutor Andrew Paul said ”I have no evidence that she colluded or facilitated Kaarma in murdering Diren.” According to police officers at the scene, she expressed disbelief that her partner had pulled the trigger and he ignored her pleas to ”be reasonable’ about the situation. I am personally relieved she will not be facing charges.
This is a double tragedy compounded by the fact that prison is usually not a restorative option. I wish Markus Kaarma would have received the therapy necessary to heal what ailed him before it escalated to murder. We were told he was suffering from social anxiety, but I have never heard of anyone afflicted with this disorder being able to watch porno in front of everyone at the barber shop or saying out loud he wanted to pop some kids for burglarizing his precious open garage.
People with social anxiety tend to feel quite nervous or uncomfortable in social situations. They are very concerned that they will do something embarrassing or humiliating, or that others will think badly of them.
The way he had run naked outside with a gun when a service employee came on his property is also indicative of another type of problem. Only a mental health specialist could have diagnosed this man, but he was seriously deluded, overreacting and showing almost psychotic reactions to a situation that could have been easily controlled. I have a hard time believing that he was simply a bad guy looking to destroy another life and his own in the process. Something was wrong in that household and Markus and Janelle made very strange bedfellows with their respective idiosyncrasies.
Now we have parents with a broken heart going home without their son and a child who will grow up without his father. Guns are so readily available in the US that unstable people like Kaarma can fall through the cracks.
To shoot or not to shoot was the question Mr. Kaarma and you should have answered it wisely. Instead, you became the flawed protagonist in this totally avoidable Shakespearean tragedy where you dealt with a stressful heightened situation and decided not to be noble, but to end it with a fatal conclusion.
The Castle doctrine
When the state’s castle doctrine was reworded in 2009, the language was opposed by the Montana Association of Chiefs of Police, the Montana County Attorney Association and the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, among other groups.
“What we have now lacks common sense,” said state Sen. Ellie Hill, a Missoula Democrat who’s introducing legislation to rework the law.
Before that revision, Hill said, Montanans still had a constitutional right to defend their home, so long as they believed lethal force was necessary to stop an intruder who was entering the residence in a “violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner.”
That language was removed in 2009 at the request of lobbyist Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association.
Hill is looking to reinstate the terms during the 2015 legislative session. While she’ll be a Democrat serving in a Republican majority, she thinks her bill can pass. It’s not a partisan issue, she said, nor does it pit liberals against conservatives.
A real case of self defense
This is an incredible video of a lady who had no choice but to use force during a burglary after a man actually broke into her house and beat her up while she is hiding in the bathroom. She finally has to shoot her assailant, but she does not kill him. She is heard warning him to stay down.
On February 12, 2015, Judge Ed McLean sentenced Markus Kaarma to 70 years, and he won’t be eligible for parole for 20 years. McLean addressed Kaarma before pronouncing the sentence saying, “you’re just not a very nice person…you didn’t protect your residence, you went hunting.”
Click here to read about the settlement reached between the victim’s family and Markus Kaarma and his partner Janelle Pflager.