Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Homeowner deserves blame for setting deadly trap

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
May 7, 2014 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Homeowner sets trap, and a 17-year-old from Germany is killed
  • Ruben Navarrette says the homeowner deserves prosecution for his actions
  • He says it was wrong for the youth to be in the house, but that doesn't excuse shooter
  • Navarrette: Slain youth's father is wrong to blame America for "cowboy" culture

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

San Diego (CNN) -- As you have probably noticed, human beings will sometimes do dumb things. Like step onto someone else's property late at night or in the early morning hours, whether innocently or not so innocently. But that doesn't give other people license to overreact and use deadly force to kill an unarmed trespasser. The law of man says so but so does the code of common decency.

Still, when a tragedy occurs, those who grieve over the loss of loved ones are sure to find little comfort in the fact that the person who caused their pain is condemned, tried and punished. That's why the goal should be to avoid such unfortunate occurrences in the first place.

Which brings us to Montana, and a story with blame to go around and no happy ending.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

My son is only 7, but someday I'd like him to have the experience of studying abroad. Of course, I want him to be safe. So when the time comes, I'll be sure to give him some basic tips on how to stay out of harm's way.

Such as: Always be aware of your surroundings and be cautious around strangers. Don't stay out after midnight or venture into parts of a city with which you're not familiar. Don't flash money or otherwise draw attention to yourself.

Now it seems I must add one more item to the list: Don't break into someone's home, especially late at night or in the early morning hours. It's rude, because you're a guest in someone else's country. It's wrong, because you have to respect another person's property. It's probably against the law, no matter what country you're in.

It could also be dangerous. If the homeowner catches you and feels the least bit threatened, he might do whatever he feels is necessary to protect himself, his home and his family. You could get hurt or even worse.

Consider what happened to Diren Dede, a 17-year-old German exchange student who was fatally shot at a private residence in Missoula, Montana.

Dede was shot by 29-year-old homeowner Markus Kaarma after the teenager did something he should not have done: wandered uninvited into Kaarma's garage in the early morning hours.

The garage door was open, and -- according to the criminal complaint that has since been filed against Kaarma for deliberate homicide -- his companion, Janelle Pflager, intentionally left her purse out in plain view "so that they would take it." She also installed sensors and a video monitor so the couple could keep tabs on what was going on in the garage.

By "they," Pflager appeared to mean whomever happened to come along and fall into the trap. She told police that the couple had been burglarized twice in the past several weeks, and they were fed up. They wanted to catch someone in the act. They did.

According to the complaint, Kaarma -- a U.S. Forest Service firefighter -- told police that he saw images on the video monitor, grabbed his shotgun and fired four times into the garage. Dede was shot, taken to the hospital and later died from what police describe as serious injuries to his head and arm.

Dede had no business in that garage. If he had never entered it, he'd be alive today. And yet Kaarma is no hero.

This was no spontaneous act of self-defense. The homeowner was on the equivalent of a hunting trip. He laid a trap, and then waited for someone to walk into it. In fact, according to the complaint, Kaarma told the woman who cuts his hair that he had been burglarized before and that he was staying up late at night "just waiting to shoot some (expletive) kid."

The more you read about this story, the less sympathetic Kaarma becomes. He sounds like a crime victim who turned into a vigilante who was just waiting to mete out his own punishment on the next person he perceived as wronging him. But he's the one who is in the wrong.

So far, we have at least two people behaving badly. Care to make it three?

Celal Dede is the dead teenager's grieving father. He told a German news agency that the culprit in this tragedy was the gun culture in the United States.

"America cannot continue to play cowboy," Celal Dede said.

Ouch. The way the father sees it, his son was killed for simply trespassing on someone's property. The punishment didn't fit the crime, he insists.

He's right about that. Even if Diren entered the garage with the intent of stealing something as opposed to simply snooping around, he still didn't deserve to die for the transgression. The homeowner obviously got carried away. And, if convicted, he should spend the rest of his life in prison because of it.

But the father is wrong to blame the American gun culture. That's a sweeping generalization. And, as an outsider, he should tread more lightly. Not every American owns a gun. The issue isn't guns or cowboys.

Nor is the issue those notorious "stand your ground" laws. Kaarma's defense lawyers say they will invoke Montana's so-called castle doctrine, which allows use of force to ward off unlawful entry of a home if the person reasonably believes it necessary to stop an assault or prevent a felony.

The issue is responsibility. Those responsible might also include Celal Dede, the boy's father. After all, someone apparently raised this young man to believe it was fine to trespass on a stranger's home. Was it society, his peer group or his parents?

What happened in Montana was a terrible occurrence but one that could have been avoided if three people had behaved differently and made better choices.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT