Missoula - Two teenagers testified on Thursday that they had stolen items from the garage of a Montana man accused of killing a student in that very place weeks later, and one of the teens said that may have been one factor that led to the German exchange student's death.
Mykle Martin, age d17, and Tristan Staber, aged 18, described a scenario in which area teens banded together to go "garage hopping", or burglarising garages, in search of alcohol and other things after dark in the neighbourhood where Markus Kaarma lives.
Kaarma is accused of baiting the shooting victim, Diren Dede, into sneaking into his garage early 27 April, and killing him with four shotgun blasts after being alerted by a motion detector. He has pleaded innocent to deliberate homicide, citing fear of harm to his family and property after he'd been burglarised twice before the shooting.
Martin testified that it was common knowledge that some area teens went garage hopping late at night. He and Staber had been convicted of stealing a wallet, marijuana, alcohol and an iPhone from Kaarma's garage about a week before Dede was shot. Staber said he acted as lookout while Martin stole the items.
"I was the previous break-in," Martin said. "I'm the reason he [Kaarma] was waiting for another person."
Both teens said Kaarma and his partner made a call to the iPhone. Staber said he heard Kaarma make a threat; Martin said the couple didn't.
Their testimony came as prosecutors opened their case on Thursday.
Deputy county attorney Jennifer Clark said Kaarma gave no warning before firing in the darkened garage four times after tripping the motion sensor, and that Kaarma paused between the third and fourth shots.
Clark said Dede may have been crouching behind a car after the first shots were fired.
An 18-year-old next-door neighbour, Brandon Klise, testified that he thought it was odd to see the garage door at the Kaarma home open after homeowners were told to keep them closed after recent thefts. Klise also said he knew Kaarma felt he was being targeted.
Defense attorney Paul Ryan said Kaarma didn't know whether the person inside the garage was armed. Kaarma is a man who doesn't like to be around a lot of people, and he felt targeted and increasingly anxious for the safety of his partner, Janelle Pflager, and their infant son after the first burglaries, Ryan stated.
Kaarma believed police weren't doing anything about the burglaries, Ryan added. And he insisted that Montana law allows homeowners to protect their residences with deadly force when they believe they are going to be harmed.
Montana's "stand your ground" law makes it easier for people to avoid prosecution in a shooting if they felt an imminent danger, whether or not the person shot was armed. Dede, from the German city of Hamburg, was not carrying a weapon.
Days before the shooting, Kaarma had told a woman that his house had been burglarised twice and he had been waiting up nights to shoot an intruder, according to court records.