MISSOULA, Montana - A man who shot and killed a German exchange student caught trespassing in his garage was convicted of deliberate homicide Wednesday in a case that attracted attention as a test of self-defense laws that govern the use of deadly force to defend life and property.
Cheers erupted in the packed courtroom when the verdict was read in the case against Markus Kaarma, 30. The case generated outcry in Germany, where the government said it launched its own investigation.
Kaarma shot 17-year-old high school student Diren Dede in the early hours of April 27 after being alerted to an intruder by motion sensors. Witnesses testified Kaarma fired four shotgun blasts at Dede, who was unarmed.
Kaarma faces a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 11. His lawyers plan to appeal.
Dede's parents were in the courtroom and hugged and cried when they heard the jury's decision.
Kaarma's lawyers argued at trial that he feared for his life, didn't know if the intruder was armed, and was on edge because his garage was burglarized at least once in the weeks before the shooting. They said under Montana's "stand your ground" law, Kaarma's actions were justifiable because he feared for his family's safety.
Prosecutors maintained that after the previous burglary, Kaarma was intent on luring an intruder into his garage and then harming that person. That night, Kaarma left his garage door partially open with a purse inside.
At trial, neighbors testified that Kaarma's girlfriend, Janelle Pflager, told them of the couple's plans to bait an intruder and catch a burglar themselves because they believed police weren't responding to area break-ins.
Prosecutors said Kaarma fired a pump-action shotgun four times into the garage - pausing between the third and fourth shots. During that pause, police testified, Kaarma might have adjusted his aim before he struck Dede in the head.
Dede's parents attended the trial, often leaving the packed courtroom during emotional testimony. The Hamburg teen was studying at Missoula's Big Sky High School and was to leave the U.S. after the school term ended in just a few weeks.
More than 30 U.S. states have laws expanding the self-defense principle known as the "castle doctrine," a centuries-old premise that a person has the right to defend their home against attack. The name evokes the old saying, "my home is my castle."
Since Florida in 2005 became the first of several states to expand the castle doctrine's use outside the home, a flurry of cases has tested the boundaries of self-defense law.
Most famously, a Florida jury acquitted security guard George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman followed the teenager, contended the boy attacked him, and was acquitted of murder charges even though he was not at his home at the time of the shooting.
In Germany, Hamburg prosecutor Carsten Rinio said his office was still looking into the Dede case after opening an investigation as required under German law. U.S. authorities were sent a request for documents several months ago, he said, but have not yet provided them.
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