Trapping intruders: ‘Stand your ground’ law tested in recent shootings

2014-05-02T00:00:00Z Trapping intruders: ‘Stand your ground’ law tested in recent shootingsThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 02, 2014 12:00 am  • 

HELENA — A Montana man is accused of setting a trap and blindly blasting a shotgun into his garage, killing a 17-year-old German exchange student. A Minnesota man is convicted of lying in wait in his basement for two teenagers and killing them during a break-in.

The two recent cases take the “stand your ground” debate to a new level: Do laws that allow private citizens to protect their property also let them set a trap and wait for someone to kill?

“We don’t want it to be easy to be able to prosecute people. But we want to be able to hold individuals accountable when they have stepped outside the bounds of society,” David LaBahn, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said Wednesday.

More than 30 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, LaBahn said. The name evokes the old saying, “my home is my castle.”

Most of these changes have come since Florida in 2005 became the first state to interpret the “castle doctrine” to apply outside the home with a measure known as the “stand your ground” law.

These laws make it far easier for a person to shoot someone and avoid prosecution by saying they felt an imminent danger — whether or not the person who was shot was armed.

The principle came under national scrutiny in the 2012 shooting of an unarmed Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, by a neighborhood watch volunteer who was following the 17-year-old. George Zimmerman was acquitted last year after arguing self-defense.

The Montana and Minnesota cases involve homeowners who had been burglarized and said they were afraid of it happening again. Prosecutors say they lured intruders into fatal encounters.

In Montana, Markus Kaarma told investigators his Missoula home had been burglarized twice within the last week before Sunday’s shooting death of 17-year-old Diren Dede. Kaarma told his hairdresser he had stayed up three nights waiting to shoot a kid, the woman told investigators.

The night of the shooting, Kaarma and his partner, Janelle Pflager, left their garage door open. Pflager left her purse in the garage “so that they would take it,” she told a police officer. She also set up a video baby monitor and installed motion sensors, prosecutors said.

After midnight, they heard the sensors trip. Pflager turned to the video monitor and saw a man in the garage. Kaarma took his shotgun, walked out the front door and to the driveway.

He told investigators he heard metal on metal and without speaking fired four times — sweeping the garage with three low shots and a high fourth shot. Dede was hit in the head and the arm.

Montana’s law says a person is justified in using deadly force if they believe it necessary to prevent an assault or a forcible felony.

Since it passed in 2009, the law has been raised at least a dozen times in Montana cases. In several, it was the reason prosecutors decided against filing charges.

Kaarma attorney Paul Ryan said he intends to use that law as a defense in his client’s deliberate homicide charge. That shifts the burden to prosecutors, who will have to prove their case and that deadly force wasn’t justified, he said.

Kaarma didn’t intend to kill Dede, Ryan said. “He was scared for his life. It shouldn’t be up to a homeowner to wait and see if (an intruder) is going to shoot him when he announces himself,” he said.

Because the laws typically leave it up to the shooter to decide if a danger exists, prosecutors often have no way to challenge such a claim. LaBahn said the case in Missoula appeared to reflect the same concerns raised repeatedly by prosecutors in Florida.

“It doesn’t sound to me that a reasonable person is going to shoot through a garage door,” LaBahn said.

He added there could be mitigating factors yet to emerge in the exchange student’s death.

Minnesota law allows the use of deadly force in a home to prevent a felony, but it must be considered a reasonable response.

Byron Smith, a 65-year-old retiree, unsuccessfully used that defense to justify his shooting of Nick Brady, 17, and Haile Kifer, 18, after the cousins broke into his Little Falls home in 2012. Smith’s attorney said his client’s home had been burglarized, and he was afraid.

Smith was convicted of premeditated murder Tuesday. Prosecutors said Smith moved his truck to make it look as though no one was home. He turned on a handheld recorder, had a surveillance system running and waited in the basement with food, water and two guns.

Brady descended the basement stairs first, and Smith shot him three times, saying “You’re dead.” He dragged the body to another room and waited until Kifer followed, and he shot her. “You’re dying,” he told her, according to the audio recording.

Since Martin’s death in Florida, lawmakers in at least seven states have introduced legislation to weaken or repeal self-defense laws. None of the measures have passed, according to the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Gary Marbut, who heads the Montana Shooting Sports Association and helped draft the state’s law, said Kaarma’s case could help clarify it.

“If they’re going to possess the means to apply lethal force,” he said, “they need to have a good understanding of when and how that is permissible.”


Brown reported from Billings. Associated Press writers Amy Forliti in Little Falls, Minnesota, and Amy Beth Hanson in Helena contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(17) Comments

  1. kaha
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    kaha - May 07, 2014 5:41 pm
    It's comments and attitudes like these that give the rest of us staunch 2A supporters a bad name. I had a kid walk into the back door of my house about a week ago, door was open for ventilation. Had my Beretta at my right hand and my shotgun within an arms reach. Was just a scared kid, probably high as a kite, paranoid as all get out. And no threat to me whatsoever. I chilled him out and got him on his way, once I ascertained that there hadn't been an accident or something traumatic that needed attention.
    So by your argument I should have killed him?
    Bloodthirsty chest-thumping neanderthals.
    Oh, and I'd have that cannibalism fetish looked into if I were you. It ain't normal or healthy.
  2. wl0414
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    wl0414 - May 05, 2014 8:23 am
    Trolling again
  3. Restore_the_Republic
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    Restore_the_Republic - May 04, 2014 6:11 pm
    Have a good flashlight next to your firearm. And identify your target before you shoot. And then, yes, shoot and ask questions later. I support local law enforcement. But when seconds matter, the police are minutes away.
  4. Subtlety
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    Subtlety - May 04, 2014 9:51 am
    The title of this article is so biased as to be considered journalistic malpractice. Both shootings in Montana and Minnesota involve use of the castle doctrine, nullifying the question of the duty to retreat. Stand Your Ground defenses are not at issue in either case, yet the headline states these cases are not only somehow related, but calls the defense into question. The misconduct of the press related to matters of Stand Your Ground defenses seems to manifest from more than mere ignorance, but instead from an irrational emotionalism directed at the law. Most Press stories involving any use of questionable self defense are somehow dishonestly shaped into an indictment of Stand Your Ground. This type of advocacy disguised as reporting is why I believe the field of journalism continues to decline in terms of both trust and respect. It is sad, what has become the norm in a once proud and noble field.
  5. Dublin over
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    Dublin over - May 02, 2014 9:13 pm
    Shoot intruders. Period
  6. constitutionalist
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    constitutionalist - May 02, 2014 6:36 pm

    It was his home and his decision oh how he protects his property and his self.
  7. rickster
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    rickster - May 02, 2014 4:53 pm
    You say he set a trap? (Cops set traps all the time when they are trying to catch someone in the act). After being burglarized before? I cant blame him for being ready for the next time. If this 17 year old was smart enough to be an exchange student, He should have been smart enough to not go into someones garage at midnight with a flashlight. Also where was the host family for this student? Why were they letting him run around at midnight? No control over him? Its a sad situation and i feel for the family, but the 17 year old should not have been there.!!
  8. srvdmytym
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    srvdmytym - May 02, 2014 4:10 pm
    I guess I kinda figure i'm with the folks who take the stance that regardless of what I do, what I have or what I store on my personal property, it's MY PROPERTY.....and unless invited in by me, no one has the right to enter any part of my premises sans that invitation! Now my garage has a door that enters into my it locked....probably not; so if you are in my garage, you are in my home, not with standing your age, your circumstance, etc., you are probably not going to fare well if i'm home and you enter either the house or garage. I do think that common sense should always come into play, but self preservation always comes first.
  9. geraldgagnon59701
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    geraldgagnon59701 - May 02, 2014 3:28 pm
    As I said... His garage, all it's contents, his right to do with as he pleases. Same for yours, or mine. Some punk breaks in on me, I shoot it. Free meat for me! :)
  10. drigulch
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    drigulch - May 02, 2014 1:44 pm
    Well just let us hope the freezers fill up first with the meat of friends, loved ones, and the occasional extra special trophy prize -- a god fearing seminary students like the nicely stalked game we recently read about during the Billings hunt. It will bother me naught to see more of that sorry stock out of the gene pool and added to the winter stores of the sadistic self righteous shoot 'em ups.
  11. 510
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    510 - May 02, 2014 12:57 pm
    Similarly the shooter did not know if the intruder was mentally handicapped and lost.
    The shooter did not know if the intruder was running from an attacker and seeking shelter.
    The shooter did not know if it was a buddy entering the garage to knock on the garage door to the house.

    The shooter didn't know anything, really. The shooter was very lucky in this regard.
  12. geraldgagnon59701
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    geraldgagnon59701 - May 02, 2014 12:38 pm
    The man owns the garage, and it's contents. If he wants to shoot it up, he should be able to. And if some punk happens to be in his garage, the punk is the property owner's to do with as he sees fit. This shouldn't even be an issue. just some free meat for the homeowner's freezer.
  13. wl0414
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    wl0414 - May 02, 2014 11:55 am
    drigulch: Well said. This guy had a lot of options besides killing someone.
  14. Dublin over
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    Dublin over - May 02, 2014 10:37 am
    The shooter did not know if the intruder had a gun. He did the right thing.
  15. 510
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    510 - May 02, 2014 10:32 am
    I'm somewhere between you and constitutionalist on this one.

    On the one hand, I should be able to leave a stack of money on a card table in the middle of my garage, porch, yard (much less inside my actual home), without worry that it would be disturbed. Because it is mine, and it is on my property. I don't think that the baiting aspect should come into play at all. Whether I put a wallet (I don't carry a purse) on the table deliberately, or left it there, should be of no concern. My garage is full of stuff, am I baiting if I leave the 3 wheeler in there? Or my tools? Or a six pack of beer? I get that the story says they deliberately put the purse there, but so what?

    So let me be completely clear: I fully support the right to defend your property from theft with lethal force.

    On the other hand, the way this guy went about it sticks in my craw. He had been burgled twice before, but only the garage, not the living quarters. Now of course previous history doesn't dictate future actions (meaning the next burglar isn't going to necessarily stay in the garage, but may decide to enter the house, or may simply be someone intent on murder), so again, I'm still with the homeowner on arming himself against an intruder.

    But where I am on the fence is the manner in which he went about it - he heard a noise and went into the garage firing blindly. There was no attempt to warn the intruder, or hold the intruder at gunpoint, or even identify the intruder who could have been (but wasn't, yes, I know), an street urchin seeking shelter from a pack of ravenous wolves.

    The homeowner was at the advantage here: he was already agitated from other burglaries, he was armed, he had cameras, he knew where the person was, he knew the layout of his garage, and he fired four times into the dark without warning.

    "Montana’s law says a person is justified in using deadly force if they believe it necessary to prevent an assault or a forcible felony."

    The key word is "believe" which is impossible to prove one way or the other.

    The deceased could be the same guy who stole twice before, or he could have been on a dare to run into a garage and run away - meaning he may well have not intended to steal. We will never know.

    However as a former military man myself, and gun owner, and someone who believes thieves are scum, running into a dark garage and firing four times sticks in my craw.
  16. drigulch
    Report Abuse
    drigulch - May 02, 2014 10:03 am
    This is sheer and utter nonsense. Premeditated, deliberate homicide within the framework of vigilantism. The homeowner purposefully set a baited trap, was armed to the teeth, and completely prepared to blast away. How anybody could possibly say he was afraid for his well being and under a threat when he was the one lying in wait for an unsuspecting intruder is beyond me. Not one word here that the resident made the slightest attempt to call authorities before blasting away like Dirty Harry.

    All we need is every junior John Wayne like this taking the law into their own hands. We were not allowed to employ anything close to this level of indiscretion in applying deadly force when I was in the army. We faced a very legitimate terrorist threat on an airfield where I was stationed and we were told in no uncertain terms that we had better have a knife in our body before we discharged a weapon at an intruder. A guard shortly before I arrived on station shot a terrorist and could not account for his round because the intruder escaped. He was headed for Leavenworth until the terrorist ended up in a German hospital and the round was finally accounted for.

    I hope this smug gunslinger fries before he blows a neighbor kid away in his next recreational murder set-up when a stray round goes through a wall and into somebody's bedroom.
  17. constitutionalist
    Report Abuse
    constitutionalist - May 02, 2014 8:55 am
    The shooting seems justified to me. As do the examples used.

    People after the fact, and regardless of police incompetence want to judge these people for how they chose to protect their property.

    Yet police scared of arm movements and slaughtering people(like the Yellowstone pirate) get off without criminal charges.

    Either our laws apply to everyone or they apply to no one. And I hope people embrace this ideology and learn about jury nullification, which you can use regardless of what some stupid judge has to say about it. r

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