Bad Kaarma: 70 Years for Montana Burglar Trapper

Remember Markus Kaarma, the Missoula, Montana man who waited outside his garage for someone to come burglarize it, then fired his shotgun into the garage, killing German exchange student Diren Dede?

Well, as you might expect in America's gun-obsessed paranoid fanatic culture of cowboy-style vigilantism, he claimed self-defense under the frontier-style 'Castle Doctrine' and acquitted. He is now on a celebrity speaking tour among American gun-rights groups.

Sorry, having a bit of fun there. You didn't think I could pass up a chance to poke a little harmless fun at German Besserwisserei, did you? Kaarma was convicted of murder by a jury and sentenced by a judge to seventy (70) years in prison:

He dismissed Kaarma's claim he suffered from "anxiety" and an "anti-social disorder," saying it "doesn't excuse the anguish you have caused."

"You pose too great a risk to society to be anywhere else but the Montana State Prison. Good luck to you, son," McLean said.

"I'm sorry my actions caused the death of Mr. Dede," Kaarma told the judge before learning his fate.

He will be eligible for parole in 20 years. As a law-talking guy, I feel compelled to use this as a teaching moment. Right after the shooting, both Kaarma and his wife, apparently believing Montana law gave them the right to do what they did, spoke in detail. They described how they had been burglarized many times, got fed up, and set a 'trap' by leaving their garage door open and waiting until a motion sensor told them someone was inside. Then Kaarma fired.

When a lawyer reads about people talking so freely about their involvement in a homicide, our reaction is similar to a doctor seeing a pregnant woman down a liter of vodka. If you're ever arrested — and I hope  some of my readers live life loud enough to risk this — do not say a word to anyone, no matter what, until you have spoken to a lawyer. This rule applies to everyone, everywhere, no exceptions. It's the equivalent of a fundamental physical constant, one of the basic building blocks of the legal universe. By chatting so volubly about his motives and actions, Kaarma didn't just tie his lawyers' hands, he practically chopped them off.

FWIW, I should add that this penalty, like most American criminal penalties, strikes me as Draconian. It is certainly longer than he would have gotten for a comparable crime in most European countries, including Germany. 

One thought on “Bad Kaarma: 70 Years for Montana Burglar Trapper

  1. Well, conventional wisdom has it that the German and European penal system is more about eventually rehabilitating offenders back into society, no matter how far in the future that day may be when they are released again.

    But the popularity of this concept appears to be waning, as this Spiegel article from a few days ago shows:

    I still think that a person who is rehabilitated after a – sometimes long – prison term is generally of greater use to society on the outside than having the taxpayer pay for decades of dead-end prison accomodation. Save for a few cases in which a criminal is so pathologically twisted in their head that they are impossible to reform and rehabilitate regardless of how long they spend in prison, nobody has anything to gain from locking up a person on a multi-decade (mandatory) sentence potentially until the day they die.

    To me, much of this legislation is driven by victim advocates, and it’s on the one hand understandable that some victims or their friends and family would want an offender to never see the light of day outside prison again, or that they think offenders should be given harsh sentences even for light offenses (just think of the Three Strikes laws). But victims and their loved ones are not the only stakeholders in this; like I said, society’s interests should be considered as well (not to mention those of the offender’s family), and looking at the numbers that indicate that one in 30 Americans are either in prison, jail, or “in the system” in one way or another, it begs the question if this is still in the broader interest of society.

    As for Diren Dede, I think his sister actually told the press last week that it doesn’t matter to her if her brother’s murderer is locked up for ten years or life, because in the end it won’t bring her brother back. Coming from a person this close to the victim, to me that still speaks of an overall consensus in German culture that the extent to which justice is served is not infinitely proportional to the length of a sentence.


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