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Posted on January 18, 2018 by in Shawn Vincent

Four Shots In The Dark: Case Analysis of the Kaarma case- Escalation



Part 3: The Role of Escalation in the Prosecution of Markus Kaarma

In our series The Four Elements of Self-Defense, we’re exploring how location, escalation, reasonable fear, and post-incident accidents can affect the legal defense in the wake of a self-defense shooting.  In our last installment, we explored how the location of the shooting factored into the legal defense.  In this installment we look at the role escalation played in the prosecution of Markus Kaarma. 

Markus Kaarma, a homeowner in Missoula, Montana, shot foreign exchange student Diren Dede when he caught the teen trespassing in his garage around midnight on April 27, 2014. Kaarma had been victim of a burglary just ten days before.  With the perpetrator still at large, Kaarma became frustrated and angry with law enforcement, and he and his partner Janelle Pflager, according to prosecutors, decided to take matters into their own hands.

In court, the county attorneys made the case that the couple planted a purse in the garage and intentionally left the garage door open in an attempt to lure the burglar back.  Days before the shooting, a neighbor and former law enforcement officer told Pflager that the burglary they recently suffered was a “crime of opportunity” because they had left their garage door open, making them an easy target for criminals.

Armed with this information, the couple’s subsequent decision to keep their garage door open became an invitation for an intruder. The couple also set up baby monitors so they could watch for intruders in their garage.  They deliberately set the stage for the conflict that would inevitably come.

When Kaarma saw the dark figure appear on the baby monitor, he had a number of options.  He could have called 911.  He could have locked the doors and shouted, letting the intruder know he had been discovered.  He could have switched on the garage light to try to scare him off.  He could have even grabbed his shotgun and waited to see if the intruder tried to enter the house.  But he did none of these things.

Instead, Kaarma grabbed his loaded shotgun, exited his front door, and fired four shots into the darkened garage.  Not only was this option a massive escalation of the conflict, but it virtually eliminated any opportunity for Dede to de-escalate.  The frightened Dede had nowhere to go and no way to retreat.  Kaarma had trapped him, making the shooting virtually inevitable.

While Kaarma didn’t explicitly invite Dede into his garage, he did invite the circumstances that would attract an intruder.  At trial, prosecutors suggested that Kaarma set a trap for a would-be burglar for the purposes of shooting him, and if that’s true, the shooting was premeditated — and there is no such thing as premeditated self-defense. 

The lesson for gun owners concerned about protecting their home is that home defense doesn’t begin and end with your firearm.  It starts with locking your windows and doors.  It means keeping your garage door shut at night.  It means installing proper security lighting.  And it means alerting law enforcement when you have fear of an intruder.  Your firearm is the last line of defense, and it is only justified where there is the threat of harm or a forcible felony.  Gun owners have a responsibility to avoid circumstances where they may be forced to use their firearms, and they should absolutely never manufacture a circumstance for the purpose of justifying the use of deadly force.

In our next installment, we’ll look at how the concept of reasonable fear factored into Kaarma’s legal defense.

Shawn Vincent- Litigation Consultant

Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters.  If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know below!