November 23, 2014


‘Stand your ground’ law tested in recent shootings


Byron Smith

Byron Smith

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — 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 became central to the defense of a 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.

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.”

  • golfingirl

    “Prosecutors say they lured intruders into fatal encounters.”

    What did the shooter do, send them an invitation? Did they think they were entering the house in the middle of the night to attend a wedding?

    Brady and Kifer were also linked to another burglary the day before they were killed; stolen prescription drugs were found in the car they were driving.

    Alert……..Don’t break into others’ homes, and you will not be shot.

    It is an occupational hazard of being a thief!

    • Mark B

      Here again , the courts want to give more rights to the criminal than the honest person.

      • jz

        I,m all for gun ownership and self defense. However, just because people in some states can now have these new laws to fall back on as far as I,m concerned, does not mean every person who has a gun is full of good judgement as to when to use it, and does not mean that some who are not typical criminals may not have ill will in their hearts maybe because they are fed up with crime. That is understandable up to a point. But, leaving a purse in plain view in an open garage no matter how guilty they may have been in another burglary for pills, is still ill will and not an absolute necessary self defense case. It,s called baiting so I can shoot or kill someone, not baiting so I can catch someone stealing. There is a moral responsibility for anyone with a gun to only use it as a last resort, and at time these are split second decisions. Too many of these case to me involve people who seemingly want to set up a situation, or like Zimmerman rather than use better judgement and back down so that the eventual confrontation would not have occured in the first place, whether the kid had it coming or not once he jumped Zimmerman, the whole situation could have been avoided. I,m not pro criminal or pro burglar or pro thief etc but I,m also not for the wrong people carrying a gun. Even though it is their constitutional right. There have been a lot of cases where prosecutors in these states have not prosecuted in some cases and in other almost exact same scenarios they have prosecuted. I,m all for self defense but I think it is bad law.

        • jz

          One again a rant, but, making a point sometimes takes more than a few lines to get it across.

          • ekwaykway

            I don’t care what’s left in a garage, stay the hell out!

          • jz

            How are you defending yourself from serious physical harm or death by shooting an unarmed person with the only knowledge that he is stealing a purse off your car? On top of that you have video to ID him. Not defending thievery at all.

          • golfingirl

            And how do you know that is their only intent?

            Kids in the house, a stranger in my garage….protect the children at all costs.

            Enter someone else’s home, be prepared to accept the consequences.

            Again, easy solution here……don’t commit a crime!

          • ekwaykway

            So what are we to do, wait till an unarmed intruder decides to arm themselves? Then decide to commit a full blown home invasion with a knife from your kitchen. Use your duct tape to restrain you and abuse you? Fists are lethal weapons too. Isn’t it enough they entered your home? How does one determine they simply entered to just steal your posessions? Have the intruder fill out a form? Or just frisk the intruder to make sure their clean. Yeah thats it!

          • jz

            I do not disagree with either one of you, golf girl and ekway. There is a responsibility to let someone know you are there, armed, and ready to shoot. Of course if the perp does not give you the opportunity to do that and ie charges toward you, or me, he will be dead from 2 spot on shots from my gun to his chest. You are predetermining and writing a plot that none of us will know the circumstances unless the situation arose. I carried a gun for 29 years and pulled it probably 9-10 times. I never looked forward to having to use it but was surely ready if need be. You do not know if they are their simply to steal your posessions or do more harm cus none of us can read minds. Your sarcasm about waiting till an intruder arms themselves makes no sense. of course you don,t do that. You don’t have to know what they are there for, that has nothing to do with whether or not you are protecting yourself from serious physical harm or death. That should be the only defense for killing someone. Some of these politicians created a new law, another “feel good” law that already has done more harm than good. That is what they are best at. Self defense is always allowed. Killing someone when it could have been avoided should not be made easier. And do you really think prosecutors, who dislike criminals, who are the ones not liking these new laws do not like them because they now decide they are sympathetic to burglars? Look at who is not liking these laws. Cops and prosecutors. I know I post long rants but to make a point one has to sometimes elaborate. Hey Ekway I too remember the old George and Daisy’s

          • ekwaykway

            So you suggest a home owner tips off an intruder? Thats a good plan for the criminal if they have a gun. I’m not being sarcastic, an intruder is entiled to being warned prior to robbing you? Are you serious? You don’t know what they are there for? Let me guess, to improve my health or simply steal my hard earned posessions? Lmao…

          • franksnbeans


        • golfingirl

          Purse in his open garage? They were in this guy’s basement. They broke into his house!

          What is a “typical” criminal? A first time criminal can kill a homeowner, as easily as a career criminal. Are we suppose to ask their criminal history before defending ourselves?

          I agree, it is a tragedy, for all involved. I feel for the family of those killed and can only imagine the pain of the parents.

          I was brutally attacked while in college, and I can tell you if it ever happens again, the outcome will be quite different.

          The fact is this….their actions directly resulted in their deaths. Was too much force used? Maybe, based on the verdict, but it still does not bring these kids back.

          Don’t want to die at the hands of a homeowner…..stay out of their house. Pretty simple to me.

          • jz

            I re-read the article and they deliberately left the purse in an open garage. You mis interpreted my typical criminal point, or maybe I stated it wrong. I meant normally law abiding citizens who now because they have a gun can have ill will in their hearts. Apparently someone or the same ones were in their house on another day. As far as I can see the shooter still set a trap or baited them to come back. Dummies came back. You are right to a point. But the 65 year old retiree deserves a murder conviction. There is not much difference between his case and many others who get off because of bad law in the first place. There has always been self defense and always will be. It seems now a person can fall back on bad law and cross the line to murder, and maybe get off.

          • Mark B

            What about when police plant a Bait Car to catch car thieves.

          • ekwaykway

            Right Mark, what if the car thief panics and kills a family? And before people start, this is the argument police use in driving under the influence, you could have killed someone. But it’s okay for law enforcement to entrap you.

          • jz

            You don,t delineate between a crew of cops, trained for the job and a citizen shooting an unarmed person, even if they are a thief?

          • No_Excuse_For_This

            jz, I do so enjoy your posts. It’s really sad what some people choose to believe.

          • jz

            Don’t be sad be glad.

          • franksnbeans

            People like to believe whatever is in print. Disturbs the intelligent mind.

      • franksnbeans

        Kudos Mark, right on the money.

    • Joe Smith

      I guess next a woman who wears a short skirt lures a person into rape.

      But it is ok for a police officer to act like he is selling drugs and lure someone into a drug bust.

  • Joe Smith

    “Do laws that allow private citizens to protect their property also let them set a trap and wait for someone to kill?”

    obviously not

  • Larry Crnobrnja

    George Zimmerman did NOT use SYG as his defense.

    • Mark B

      And clearly this case is not about stand your ground , but the Castle Doctrine.

      • golfingirl

        Your home has now become the criminal’s Castle.

        This is the New Castle Doctrine.

    • 2111

      I can’t believe this is being used incorrectly again as an example of SYG. It makes it difficult to have a conversation about it when those that are opposed to SYG have no clue what it is or how it is applied correctly.

    • SniperFire

      Why let facts get in the way of a good story?

  • ken

    if someone breaks in my house I will shoot to kill with no remorse

  • guest

    Brutally attacked in college, Golfingirl? That explains why your so screwed up. Didnt know you had a brain injury. Thought you were just a burnout.

    • Starryeyes63

      Unless you know something of being attacked SHUT YOUR MOUTH.

  • ekwaykway

    The courts defend criminals cause thats how they make their money.

  • SniperFire

    One less criminal.