Kaarma's defense team wants proceedings sealed, venue changed


MISSOULA, Mont. - Defense attorneys and county prosecutors want to seal court documents and proceedings in the case of a Missoula man accused of murdering a German exchange student.

Markus Kaarma's defense team also wants the case moved out of Missoula.

Court documents say Kaarma admitted he shot and killed Diren Dede, 17, in April. Dede reportedly walked into the open garage to get something to drink. Another exchange student who was with Dede said he could have been looking for alcohol.

Prosecutors allege Kaarma baited the teen after growing frustrated from two other burglaries. But Kaarma's defense says he was scared for his life and the safety of his family when he fired into the dark garage.

The case has garnered national and international attention from the beginning. Now Kaarma's team wants documents and hearings sealed from the public and the media. The attorneys have also asked for a venue change.

If granted, the motion filed Friday would seal documents and court proceedings. That means everyone outside of the case, including the media, would be locked out of any information.

Defense attorney Nate Holloway says keeping the proceedings open threatens the trial fairness. He writes that Deputy County Attorney Andrew Paul doesn't object.

In addition to the request to seal documents and hearings, Kaarma's attorneys want a change of venue for the trial. Attorney Katie Lacny filed 208 pages explaining why.

"Both the community outcry and media coverage surrounding this matter have created a bias against Markus Kaarma that cannot be overcome in Missoula County," she wrote.

Lacny goes on to say, "Missoula County residents now have a personal and emotional stake in this case," and that there's no way to prevent a biased jury.

To make their case, the attorneys tracked numbers -- how many people watch local TV news, how many Facebook "likes" news organizations have and how many stories two local newspapers and three local TV stations have done on the case.

They also cite comments from public figures including Democratic Senatorial candidate Dirk Adams, Missoula Mayor John Engen and State Representative for Missoula Ellie Hill.

Lacny claims Kaarma has been painted as a "cold-blooded killer, a gun nut and a paranoid trigger-happy drug dealer."

Lacny wrote she thinks county prosecutors will try to argue that the defense stirred up its own publicity, when lead defense attorney Paul Ryan set up a watch party for a world cup game between the U.S. and Germany. That event was canceled. Lacny says it shouldn't weigh on decision to change the venue.

Missoula County District Court Judge Ed McLean shared his own feelings about the soccer event in court last month.

"It's not the time to run a public relations campaign, so knock it off," McLean said.

He added that he likely wouldn't go along with a venue change.

"If you're going to be playing to the public, do not expect this court to seriously consider any motions for change of venue," he said at the June hearing.

McLean has yet to rule on the motion to seal hearings and documents or the motion for a change of venue.

Click here to read the motion to seal and close pretrial proceedings.

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