A retired state judge has denied Markus Kaarma's request for a new trial for the killing of a 17-year-old German foreign exchange student.
Kaarma's attorneys argued in their petition for post-conviction relief that the Missoula man's rights to effective assistance of counsel had been violated when his attorneys at the 2014 trial had failed to parse out the differences in state statutes regarding the use of deadly force.
But retired Missoula Judge Ed McLean, who presided over Kaarma's case and sentenced him to 70 years in 2015 in Missoula County District Court, wrote in his order on July 26 that his attorneys' performance at trial "was within the wide range of professionally competent assistance."
The case had hinged on Montana's so-called "castle doctrine," which grants the use of deadly force to a resident who reasonably believes someone is entering their home to harm someone on the property.
Kaarma was convicted of luring the teenage Diren Dede into his garage in 2014 after a rash of burglaries in Kaarma's neighborhood and killing him with a shotgun.
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His new attorney, Wendy Holton, contended in the petition for a new trial that his attorneys then had not fully defined the self-defense statutes to the jury.
Missoula County prosecutors contended that Kaarma was not in fear of harm from the burglaries and plotted to entrap and hunt an intruder, based on conversations he had with a lawn care worker and a hairdresser. Further, Deputy County Attorney Jennifer Clark argued that Kaarma had five attorneys when the case went to trial, equipped with an entire trial strategy.
McLean wrote in his order last week that Kaarma bore a "heavy burden" in securing a ruling in favor of his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. In review of the maneuvers ahead of trial, McLean wrote that Kaarma's attorneys were handicapped not by their mismanagement of his defense "but by the inescapable facts that shortly before the shooting, Kaarma told people that he was waiting, ready and motivated to kill kids with his shotgun, (but) he told the police afterwards that he pulled the trigger because he feared for his life."
The Montana Supreme Court previously upheld the conviction, and the U.S. Supreme Court later declined to hear his appeal.
Kaarma can appeal McLean's July 26 ruling to the state Supreme Court, or seek a federal judge to review the decision.