Jury selection is set to begin on Monday in the trial of a Montana man who shot and killed a 17-year-old German exchange student in an incident that has ignited international debate about U.S. gun laws.
Markus Kaarma of Missoula is charged with deliberate homicide in the death of Diren Dede of Hamburg, who police said was killed by shotgun blasts after entering Kaarma’s garage in what appeared to be a search for alcohol.
German officials have expressed outrage at the killing and the teen’s father suggested to a German news agency that U.S. gun culture was partly to blame for his son’s death.
The case has renewed scrutiny of a Montana self-defense law called the “Castle Doctrine” that allows the use of force to defend against an invasion of a home or structure if a person inside reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent an assault.
A debate on the use of force permitted by stand-your-ground type laws has raged in the United States and elsewhere since the shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder last year.
On the night of the shooting in April, Dede and a fellow exchange student from Ecuador were walking along a street when Dede approached Kaarma’s garage looking for what the Ecuadorean later told police was probably alcohol.
Motion sensors and a video monitor alerted Kaarma to Dede’s presence. Prosecutors say the U.S. Forest Service firefighter walked outside with a shotgun and fired into the darkened garage, ultimately killing Dede.
Dede had been staying with a host family two houses away while in Montana for a single school term.
Kaarma admitted to police he shot and killed the teen. His attorney has said Kaarma feared for his life and for the safety of his common law wife and their infant son when Dede entered the attached garage and advanced toward the couple’s kitchen.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Clarence Fernandez)